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Behrooz Parhami's Blog & Books Page

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Page last updated on 2019 February 15

This page was created in 2009 as an outgrowth of the section entitled "Books Read or Heard" in my personal page. The rapid expansion of the list of books warranted devoting a separate page to it. Given that the book introductions and reviews constituted a form of personal blog, I decided to title this page "Blog & Books," to also allow discussion of interesting topics unrelated to books from time to time. Lately, non-book items (such as political news, tech news, puzzles, oddities, trivia, humor, art, and music) have formed the vast majority of the entries.

Entries in each section appear in reverse chronological order.

Blog entries for 2019
Blog entries for 2018
Blog entries for 2017
Blog entries for 2016
Archived blogs for 2015
Archived blogs for 2014
Archived blogs for 2012-13
Archived blogs up to 2011

Blog Entries for 2019

2019/02/15 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
An alley in Tehran's historic/cultural district: 'Alley of Break-off and Reconciliation' Cartoon: How the Islamic Revolution has affected different classes of people in Iran Information about spring equinox and saal-tahveel, the changeover to the Persian calendar year 1398 (1) Iran-related images: [Left] Alley in Tehran's historic/cultural district named "Break-off and Reconciliation" [Center] How the Islamic Revolution has affected different classes of people in Iran. (Source: Iranwire.com) [Right] The changeover to the Persian calendar year 1398 (saal-tahveel or spring equinox) will occur on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, at 2:58:27 PM California time. The corresponding Iran time will be on Thursday, Farvardin 1, 1398, at 1:28:27 AM. UCLA's Norooz celebration will occur on March 10.
(2) The three richest Americans have as much wealth as the bottom 50%. Millionaire politicians want you to believe that we have but two choices: Accept the status quo or starve to death under socialism! [Photos]
(3) Five people are dead and 5 officers wounded in Aurora, Illinois, mass shooting. When will our politicians say enough is enough, instead of just sending thoughts and prayers?
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump's 2014 tweet: If only his supporters cared that he's doing things for which he criticized Obama!
- Resistance to Trump's declaration of national emergency over border-wall funding begins.
- Trump ally indicates that with a confirmed, fully-functioning AG in place, Mueller's days are numbered.
- Yesterday, on Valentine's Day, Amazon fell out of love with New York and withdrew its HQ2 plans.
- "What this country needs is a billionaire businessman ..." [No thanks; been there, done that!] [Cartoon]
- Three books, selected by New York Times, detail the lives of Middle Eastern women. [Cover images]
- Azeri poetry: Adorable girl recites a poem, in which I can make out the names of several Iranian cities.
- One of two poems by Nasim Basiri, published by North of Oxford. [Image]
- Persian music, with lyrics based on a Hafez poem and English subtitles. [Video]
- From life's users manual: "Before talking, connect tongue to the brain." ~ Anonymous
(5) Azi Jangravi, one of the "Women of Revolution Street," says she braved certain arrest for taking off her headscarf in public because she desired better living conditions for her daughter.
(6) Final thought for the day: National Enquirer has threatened Jeff Bezos with the release of embarrassing personal info. Does it also have dirt on Ted Cruz and Lindsay Graham, who were once harsh critics of Trump, but are now his avid supporters?

2019/02/14 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Celebration of love: Happy Valentine's Day! Celebration of love: Capturing the sun in a heart Celebration of love: Happy Sepandarmazgan Festival! (1) Celebration of love: Happy Western Valentine's Day (2/14) and Iranian Sepandarmazgan Festival (2/18)!
(2) Remembering poetess extraordinaire Forough Farrokhzad on this anniversary of her tragic, premature death in 1967: Music video by Kourosh Yazdani, based on Farrokhzad's poem "Ba'dhaa" ("Later on").
(3) The world's best tech city is New York, not San Francisco: The just published Savills Index bases its city ranking on factors such as cost of living, cost of doing business, investment opportunities, real estate prices, and access to transit. [Source: Bloomberg]
(4) After successful trials in American football and basketball, "True View" technology comes to soccer: Intel has partnered with several top UK teams to bring the 3D replay technology, which allows viewing of a play from multiple angels, to the teams' home stadiums.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Britain will hit Iran with sanctions it has already prepared immediately after the completion of Brexit.
- Mother of imprisoned Iranian girl takes off her headscarf to protest the cruel treatment of her daughter.
- Eight environmental activists, labeled as spies by the Iranian regime, are denied legal representation.
- Yesterday's high winds in Goleta led to this downed tree and a broken water meter.
- Quote of the day: "It is easy to be brave from a safe distance." ~ Aesop
- A story for little kids: "If Sharks Were Men," by Berthold Brecht. [4-minute video]
- Quotation: "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." ~ John Dewey
- Persian Music: Rana Mansour's live performance of "Zan" ("Woman"). [3-minute video]
(6) Two interesting distinguished/keynote lectures coming up at UCSB later this winter: On Thursday, February 28, Dr. John Paul Strachen (HP Labs, Palo Alto) will give an ECE Distinguished Lecture entitled "A New Era for Exploring Power Efficient Hardware Accelerators: Devices, Architectures, and Lab Demonstrations" (10:00 AM, ESB 1001). Then, as part of the day-long CS Summit at UCen's Corwin Pavilion on March 13, Lise Getoor (CS Professor, UCSC), will be the keynote speaker, with the title "Responsible Data Science."
(7) Monica Witt charged with spying for Iran: The former counterintelligence officer for US Air Force Office of Special Investigations defected to Iran in 2013 and remains at large.
(8) Leaked records from Iran's judiciary indicate that 860 journalists, a quarter of them women, have been arrested/imprisoned/executed over the 40-year reign of terror.

2019/02/12 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Truth-challenged President's numbers, versus reality (crowd sizes in El Paso, Texas) Yesterday (February 11, 2019) was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Yesterday, February 11 (Bahman 22), Islamic Republic officials celebrated the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Truth-challenged President's numbers, versus reality. [Center] Yesterday (February 11, 2019) was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. [Right] Yesterday, February 11 (Bahman 22), Islamic Republic officials celebrated the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution. Ordinary Iranians, who have nothing to celebrate, had been warned against holding street protests.
(2) Humor: Trump wants to also build a wall around New Mexico, because we don't need any New Mexicans while we are trying to get rid of the old ones.
(3) Liar-in-Chief contradicted by stats the Republican Mayor of El Paso cited: El Paso has always been one of the safest large cities in the US. Its crime rate went down before the border barrier was erected in the mid-2000s, and it actually rose slightly after the barrier. Trump keeps claiming that El Paso was a very dangerous city before the barrier and one of the safest afterwards. [Violent-crimes chart]
(4) Finally, a science-friendly executive order: Trump administration's "AI Initiative" will support research and commercialization, as well as training, fellowships, and regulations to help workers whose jobs are affected.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Melania Trump worked as a model in 1996, when she was an undocumented alien.
- Genentech uses virtual reality to train eye surgeons: Over 150 have used VR training in the past year.
- Researchers study a radically new kind of neural network to overcome AI's big challenges.
- California Governor Newsom pulls National Guard from border, citing Trump's political theater. [LA Times]
- Many Americans are in for a shock, as they see their tax refunds shrink substantially. [Washington Post]
- Persian music: Young boy with magical voice performs a traditional Persian song. [5-minute video]
(6) Researchers break the mathematical code of a 3700-year-old Babylonian clay tablet dug up in southern Iraq nearly a century ago: It contains a highly-accurate trig table, which means that trigonometry was discovered by Babylonians, not the Greek, as previously thought.
(7) No one stopped the pedophile doctor working for US Indian Health Services, who was under suspicion for 21 years. [Source: Wall Street Journal]
(8) Tonight's film screening at UCSB's Pollock Theater: We were treated to "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," a screwball comedy about the Fab Four's fans and Beatlemania, as the third of five installments in the "Beatles Revolutions" series. The 1978 film was directed by Robert Zemeckis and produced by Steven Spielberg. The screening of the story of non-stop screaming fans, who wanted to see the Beatles up close at their well-guarded hotel and get into the Ed Sullivan Theater where they were performing, was followed by a moderated discussion with actress Nancy Allen and screenwriter Bob Gale. [Images]

2019/02/10 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cherry blossoms in Tokyo, at sunrise Cover image of Ursula Le Guin's book 'Words Are My Matter' Maryam Zaree's 2019 film 'Born in Evin' tells the story of children like her who were born to mothers detained at Iran's Evin Prison (1) Images for today: [Left] Cherry blossoms in Tokyo, at sunrise. [Center] See my review of Ursula Le Guin's book, Words Are My Matter, below. [Right] Maryam Zaree's 2019 film "Born in Evin" tells the story of children like her who were born to mothers detained at Iran's Evin Prison. [Interview in Persian with Maryam Zaree]
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Why are men, even very powerful ones, so obsessed with taking and sending photos of their genitals?
- Pills equipped with tiny pop-up needles can inject medicine into a body from the inside.
- A brief tour of Venice, Italy: A city built on water. [1-minute video]
- Intelligence/memory tests: Chimps versus humans. [2-minute video]
- Persian music: Breathtaking video combined with a nice rendition of the oldie "Ghowghay-e Setaregan."
- Persian poetry: The late poet/lyricist Rahim Moeini Kermanshahi recites a poem of his in this 1998 video.
(3) Book review: Le Guin, Ursula K., Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books 2000-2016, unabridged audiobook on 11 CDs, read by Laural Merlington, Tantor Audio, 2018.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This collection of essays/reviews/talks is about contemporary fiction. LeGuin [1929-2018] was an American author of fiction (often depicting futuristic or imaginary alternative worlds), short stories, and children's books. Some of the items have been revised from their original versions for inclusion in this book.
The 70 or so pieces in this collection are quite diverse, so I will comment on a few overarching themes that caught my attention.
The first theme is the place of books in our hurried, attention-challenged society. People continually predict that books are doomed. Le Guin counters that book-readers have always been a minority and they will continue to enjoy books in printed or electronic form. Authors, too, whose primary motivations are communication and the pure joy of writing, will continue to churn out books. If there is an element to blame for the challenges facing books it is the publishing industry, which views books much like cereals or deodorants: Products to be sold at maximum possible profit.
The second theme concerns the place of fiction in our modern world. Writing fiction requires imagination: To take real-world experiences and to spin them into made-up characters, places, and events. Many people are uncomfortable with this kind of imagination, which they consider akin to lying, so, when they decide to write, they opt for autobiographies, that is, realistic views of their own lives. Readers are also prone to this misjudgment, as they try to deduce aspects of the fiction-writer's life from his/her story. I must admit that I have entertained similar thoughts when reading fiction (which I do on occasion, despite my preference for non-fiction). If the author writes about an extra-marital affair, for example, my mind immediately wonders about whether it is an act or inclination of the author herself. It wasn't until I listened to Le Guin's audiobook that I became aware of this tendency of mine.
The third theme is the haughty attitude that prevails against "genered" books, such as sci-fi, romance, and the dismissively-labeled "chick-lit," a world view that essentially divides books into literature and genres. According to Le Guin, all fiction is to be considered literature.
The fourth and final theme for this review is the role of gender in literature/publishing. The designation "women's lit" is really quite offensive and gives rise to many anomalies. Women's books are reviewed by both men and women, whereas the works of male authors are less frequently reviewed by women. Le Guin was known for using her voice in the literary world to challenge gender stereotypes and gender inequality. Patriarchy, empowerment, womanhood, and freedom ran through her writings.
There is something for everyone in this delightful collection. Writers, in particular, will enjoy Le Guin's insights about the craft of writing and about the artificial categorization of literature, including those based on gender.

2019/02/09 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Freedom House's 2019 report on the status of basic freedoms in countries around the world Two white men in blackface John Meacham and the cover image of his book, 'The Soul of America' (1) Democracy and freedom in America: [Left] Freedom House's 2019 report on the status of basic freedoms in countries around the world: USA is 53rd! [Center] We need to make America great (not "great again"): If there is a silver-lining to the cloud of Trump's presidency, it is the exposure of hidden racism in America. You can't begin to solve a complex problem if you are unaware of it, pretend it doesn't exist, or do not grasp its full breadth and depth. [Right] See my review of Jon Meacham's book, The Soul of America, below.
(2) A new acronym: INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) is a clearinghouse formally set up on January 31, 2019, to facilitate non-dollar-based trade between Iran and European countries without exposing the participants to retaliation by the US, while encouraging Iran to keep its commitments under JCPOA.
(3) Brett Kavanaugh shows his true colors in a Supreme-Court case: He voted to allow a highly restrictive abortion law stand, when previously, SCOTUS had struck down an identical law. John Roberts saved the day by siding with the liberal minority. So much for Senator Susan Collins' stated confidence, when she voted for BK, that he would honor precedents in abortion and other cases.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Today is the US National Pizza Day: Many pizza chains offer special deals to mark the occasion.
- Bill Maher's monologue on the state of politics in the US, the Republicans, and Howard Schultz's candidacy.
- Not a joke: A 27-year-old Indian man plans to sue his parents for giving birth to him without his consent.
- Fun with technology: A parade of giant robotic animals. [5-minute video]
(5) Book review: Meacham, Jon, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author and Fred Sanders, Random House Audio, 2018.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I got to know the Pulitzer-Prize-winning presidential historian Jon Meacham through his editorials in Newsweek and Time magazines, which I read regularly for several years. Among his books are acclaimed biographical volumes on Andrew Jackson (2008), Thomas Jefferson (2012), and George H. W. Bush (2015).
Meacham's eulogy for GHWB, captured in this 12-minute video, was typical of his thoughtful and poignant writing/speaking style and wonderful sense of humor.
By citing examples from America's past, Meacham aims to educate the reader that the fear and division we experience today are far from unprecedented and that, as a nation, we have survived even worse times. We have risen through hard times and managed to move forward by forging programs such as the Square Deal, the New Deal, and the Great Society.
The soul of America is democratic and progressive, but there are forces of authoritarianism and racism that rear their ugly heads from time to time. Darkness and intolerance in our society is often opposed by our leaders, some of whom were quite unlikely champions of freedom and civil rights. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are prominent examples of the role of our "better angels" (to borrow a term from Lincoln's first inaugural address) prevailing against all odds.
Meacham ends his wonderfully-written book with a call for active engagement to reject tribalism and to respect facts. The fight will not be easy, and it will be mired by setbacks, but we really have no other option than to oppose the forces of darkness.

2019/02/08 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Fiftieth anniversary celebration of graduation from Tehran University's College of Engineering: Photo 2 Fiftieth anniversary celebration of graduation from Tehran University's College of Engineering: Photo 1 (1) Fiftieth-anniversary celebration: Ahead of the February 20 formal celebration gala in Tehran, a group of 1968 graduates of Tehran University's College of Engineering (my Fanni classmates) gathered on 2/06 at the College to take group photos, including one at a classroom that has been historically preserved as it was when we attended calculus lectures by Dr. Jamal Assaar. And, yes, our class was all-male, with the exception of one female electromechanics-major classmate who now lives in the US (there was another female contemporary in the chemical-engineering major).
(2) "A Structured Approach to Distributed Computation in Neural Networks": This was the title of yesterday's recruitment talk (the last one for the CS Neuroscience position) by E. Paxon Frady, a post-doc at UC Berkeley. Dr. Frady discussed how connectionist frameworks can be used to understand the information processing of neural networks. While our understanding how individual neurons work has been growing, there is currently a dearth of knowledge on how collections of neurons, distributed throughout the brain, collaborate and, thus, on how to program neural networks to perform computations of interest. [Photos]
(3) Dangers posed by eucalyptus globulus (blue gum) trees: Following numerous instances of giant eucalyptus trees shedding heavy limbs and occasionally being uprooted in strong winds, posing dangers to the housing community where I live and to UCSB's campus, and in view of dozens of e-mail exchanges about what to do with them, a neighbor posted this informative 2014 article about the species' structural failures. [Image]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Apple rewards 14-year-old Grant Thompson, who discovered FaceTime's eavesdropping bug (now patched).
- Another brilliant "A Closer Look" segment from comedian Seth Meyers, covering socialism and healthcare.
- An excellent overview (in Persian) of the status of Iranian women, as the Islamic Republic turns 40.
- 'Fauxtography' is now a fact of life: Say goodbye to real, unedited photos and videos!
(5) 'Reporters Without Borders' exposes Iran's arbitrary detention of journalists for fabricated charges of undermining national security, acting as foreign agents, and insulting Islamic tenets/leaders.
(6) Why would a well-to-do and already-famous journalist plagiarize? Surely, she knows it's unethical. And she knows, or should know, that detection of plagiarism is now easier than ever.
(7) Jeff Bezos preemptively publishes correspondence from AMI, including graphic descriptions of nude and other compromising photos they have of Bezos and his lover, to expose AMI's extortion attempt.
(8) Tonight, at UCSB's Multicultural Center Theater: Los-Angeles-based Lian Ensemble performed in two sets. The first set consisted of traditional/classical Persian music. This 3-minute sample is from the second set, featuring the ensemble's own compositions, based on classical Persian poems (Mowlavi/Rumi, in this case).

2019/02/07 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photo of Masih Alinejad and Mike Pompeo Title slide of Behrooz Parhami's February 20, 2019, talk in Goleta Rusty's Pizza in Goleta, CA (5934 Calle Real) (1) Miscellaneous images: [Left] Photo of women's-rights activist Masih Alinejad and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: See item (2) for details. [Center & Right] Technical talk in Goleta, CA: See item (3) for details.
(2) I was disappointed to see the photo on the left above and the associated news story: Masih Alinejad, Iranian women's-rights activist, met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who reassured her of Trump administration's support. So, I searched for Ms. Alinejad's explanation. According to a report by Radio Farda, after the 35-minute meeting, Alinejad explained, "I tried my utmost to be the voice of all those who put their trust in me," by highlighting three areas of concern. First, "Many Iranians want an end to the Islamic Republic. Opposition voices should be heard." Second, International community should focus on 40 years of human rights violations by the regime. Third, the Trump administration travel ban hurts human rights activists and students, not the regime. Still, I think Ms. Alinejad made a mistake in siding with Trump's war-mongering administration, which has aligned itself with some extremist enemies of Iran and seems to be eager to start a war with it.
(3) [In a couple of weeks] IEEE Central Coast Section event at Rusty's Pizza, 5934 Calle Real, Goleta, Wednesday, February 20, 2019, 6:00 PM (pizza, salad bar, and beverage, followed by presentation at 6:30).
Speaker: Dr. Behrooz Parhami, UCSB Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Title: Promoting Technological Literacy through Mathematical and Logical Puzzles
Abstract: Literacy and numeracy, introduced long ago to define the skill sets of a competent workforce are no longer adequate. Literacy is instilled and improved by telling stories that use more and more advanced vocabulary and grammar. The key tool in teaching and advancing numeracy is dealing with real-life problems, be they book-keeping and accounting tasks, analyzing geometric shapes and relationships, or deriving answers from (partially) supplied information. Teaching technical literacy (techeracy) requires a further shift away from story-telling and word problems toward logical reasoning, as reflected in the activity of solving puzzles. I will draw upon my experiences to convey how a diverse group of learners can be brought to understand the underpinnings of complex science and technology concepts such as integrated-circuit layout, recommendation systems, cryptography, and task scheduling.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The mother of all Freudian slips: Trump touts "the abolition of civil rights," crediting people of faith for it!
- Seven-vehicle crash on Highway 135 in Santa Maria leads to at least 2 deaths.
- Iranian Parliament's report acknowledges extreme poverty, encompassing more than half the population.
- Iranian officials withheld more than $1M earned by the country's national soccer team from the team.
(5) Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola apologize for marketing stunt involving napkins with space for name and phone number, and a message nudging plane passengers to hit on their 'plane crush.'
(6) US-Embassy hostage-taker nicknamed "Sister Mary," now Iran's VP for Women and Family Affairs, still does not see the light after 38 years: She asserts that Khomeini "spread democracy and stood against autocracy."

2019/02/06 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: The big bad wolf calls on the House of Representatives Photo of the backside of the Moon, along with Planet Earth, captured by a Chinese satellite State of the Union meme: Meteor and dinosaurs (1) Images of the day: [Left] The big bad wolf calls on the House of Representatives. [Center] Photo of the backside of the Moon, and Planet Earth, captured by a Chinese satellite. [Right] State of the Union meme.
(2) A big surprise for many people this tax season: Those who normally get a refund from IRS will either owe taxes or will see a smaller refund. The reason is that in the new tax code, withholdings were reduced to a greater extent than taxes. The lower withholdings created the illusion of a larger tax cut in our paychecks. So, we are essentially paying back part of the tax cut we thought we received. And things will get worse in future years. Billionaires and corporations will continue to enjoy their huge, permanent tax cuts, while the rest of us will see smaller and smaller benefits, especially as deductions disappear, healthcare costs rise, and many government services on which we rely are cut.
(3) California threatened by measles, from near and far: Washington State has reported 43 cases, a neighboring southern-Oregon county 1 case, and New York 200+ cases.
(4) Today's World Music Series noon concert: The 9-member Santa-Barbara-based Dixie Daddies and Mamas treated the audience to Dixieland music. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]
(5) Types of lying: I am puzzled by TV pundits constantly talking about the difference between lying under oath and just plain old lying, as if some kinds of lying are harmless or socially acceptable. When we raise children, do we tell them not to lie under oath but that regular lying is okay? Was Pinocchio blameless because he was never under oath? What does "the most successful president in the history of our country" tell his youngest son about lying? A good question for reporters, who asked him the easier question of whether he would let his son play football.
(6) On "digital humanities": Equating digital with new/modern and analog with old/passe is misguided. In the February 2019 issue of Communications of the ACM, Herbert Bruderer explains that the opposite of digital isn't analog and that using "digital" when we mean "electronic" is problematic. The first calculating device, the abacus, was digital, and numerous digital gadgets have been used through the ages. The predecessors of e-books, that is, paper books, cannot be considered analog books. So, the term "digital humanities" is misguided. Humanities are neither analog nor digital. A better term would be "computer-aided/assisted humanities."
(7) Decisions, decisions! UCLA's Persian lecture on Iran (Sunday, February 24, 2019, 4:00 PM, 121 Dodd Hall), entitled "From Instanbul to Chicago: Iranian Diaspora Across Time and Space" (by Fariba Zarinebaf), coincides with the Academy Awards ceremony from Hollywood's Dolby Theater, beginning at 5:00 PM on ABC. I am inclined to go to the lecture, but I remember, from a lecture event in the past, that attendance suffers when there are such time conflicts.

2019/02/05 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Chinese (lunar) new year and welcome to the year of the pig! Double-standard in wardrobe at Super Bowl halftime show: Adam Levine, 2019 Double-standard in wardrobe at Super Bowl halftime show: Janet Jackson, 2004 (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Happy Chinese New Year to everyone, and welcome to the year of the pig! [Center & Right] Double-standard in reacting to Adam Levine and Janet Jackson: Shirtless performance at Sunday's Super Bowl 2019 halftime show vs. fines levied for "wardrobe malfunction" in 2004.
(2) Adam Khan, inventor and manufacturer of a type of hard glass for cell phones, assisted FBI by wearing surveillance devices during meeting with Huawei reps at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
(3) World Freedom Report (by Freedom House) rebukes Trump: "No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms and principle."
(4) State of the Union Address: Fewer Democrats were no-shows at this year's SOTU Address, because they wanted to actively resist Trump, with record number of women in Congress (wearing white) and guests from immigrant and other slighted groups. Trump's speech in the US House was fake news; the real SOTU address will be transmitted in tweet-size chunks over the next few days!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump administration is planning delay tactics ahead of expected House request for Trump's tax records.
- Melting glaciers reveal landscapes and life forms that had been hidden from us for at least 40,000 years.
- Daring people and beautiful vistas: A wonderful combination! [2-minute video]
- The constant job growth rate over the period 2011-2018, as variously described by Donald Trump. [Chart]
- Colorado by drone: Breathtaking vistas (one in a series of amazing "by drone" travel videos on Vimeo).
- Not a new warning: Never leave your car engine running when you step away from the driver's seat.
(6) Book review: Gore, Al, Truth to Power (An Inconvenient Sequel), unabridged audiobook on 4 CDs, read by the author and several others, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2017. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Cover image of Al Gore's book 'Truth to Power (An Inconvenient Sequel)' This book, already made into a 2017 movie, paints a grim picture of domestic and international politics in the realm of global warming. While the Paris Climate-Change Accord can be viewed as a positive turn in the book's plot, the overall picture is quite negative. The election of Donald Trump derailed the slow but steady progress that was being made in curbing greenhouse-gas emissions, but now, no one, including Gore himself seems to know what to do, other than sound the alarm.
Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (both the book and the movie) did make a dent in shaping the public's perception of the seriousness of climate change and of the dangers that lie ahead if we choose not to act. The sequel comes at an even more critical time in our Earth's history, when several thresholds have already been crossed. But the book and film seem to have had fairly limited impact on public discourse in the US.
Anti-climate-change forces have been rather successful in sowing doubts about the reality of the threat and human-beings' role in its amplification, and they have been peddling a false narrative on the long-term economic harm of regulations and action plans. Like many other social and economic issues, climate-change has fallen prey to shortsighted views of populist leaders and the resulting political divide in society.
Reconciling a serious threat, that is decades out, with immediate concerns about jobs, wages, education, and healthcare, takes foresight and leadership, that, as I write this review, do not exist here in the United States. Technology seems to hold the only hope for stopping the worsening conditions and, eventually, reversing the harm already done.
Gore does an excellent job of presenting pertinent facts and the challenges posed by less-developed countries viewing pollution and global warming as First-World problems. India, for example, has argued that it has the same right as the US to cheap, oil-spurred industrialization. Any global solution must cut countries that are late-comers to industrial growth some slack, and that is where the current US administration, with its disdain for sacrifice and wealth-sharing, stands in the way.
All educated citizens of the world must read this book and/or see the movie based on it. Activism is important to keep the flame going, even if the prospects for immediate impact are dim. The book contains an extensive list of resources to help those who are inclined to act, as well as suggestions on how each individual might help.

2019/02/04 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Posthumous performances: Increasingly, entertainment contracts include language covering who controls and profits from virtual/holographic performances after the performer's death A success story in promoting diversity in computer science: Carnegie Mellon University's efforts and results discussed Quote about the US president being a fair target of criticism (1) Noteworthy memes/headlines: [Left] Posthumous performances: Increasingly, entertainment contracts include language covering who controls and profits from virtual/holographic performances after the performer's death (credit: Time magazine). [Center] A success story in promoting diversity in computer science: Efforts made and results achieved by Carnegie Mellon University are discussed in an article in the February 2019 issue of Communications of the ACM. [Right] This is exactly what ails us now: "The powers of the president will not be questioned." ~ Stephen Miller, Senior Policy Advisor to Donald Trump
(2) Well, I don't know if we needed yet another anti-Trump book, but here it is, a psycho-cultural critique from the author of Reality Hunger, David Shields: Nobody Hates Trump More than Trump: An Intervention [Cover]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- New England Patriots won 13-3 in the Super Bowl over LA Rams; the 3-3 score after 3+ quarters was odd!
- In a speech, Kim Jong Un describes the Trump administration as a racist billionaires' club.
- Trump's claim of having a very good memory debunked in a video compilation of memory fails.
- Small plane disintegrates, crashes into single-family home in SoCal, killing the pilot and 4 residents.
- How Asghar Farhadi, arguably Iran's best director, makes art of moral ambiguity (NYT).
- The estate of the late comedian Gary Shandling donates $15.2 million to UCLA's Medical School.
Book introductions: Three interesting titles from Princeton University Press (4) Book introductions: Three interesting titles from Princeton University Press.
- Kernighan, Brian W., Millions, Billions, Zillions: Defending Yourself in the World of Too Many Numbers
- Steiglitz, Ken, The Discrete Charm of the Machine: Why the World Became Digital
- McCormick, John, What Can Be Computed? A Practical Guide to the Theory of Computation
(5) The silver lining: Scientists and engineers took advantage of the deep freeze in the US Midwest to observe how robots function in such extreme weather conditions.
(6) Unusually strong winds led to many downed trees and broken tree limbs on the UCSB Campus, in my housing complex, and around Goleta yesterday. Clean-up is in progress, as are damage assessments and discussions about mitigating the hazards in future.
(7) Earl Maize (JPL) describes "Cassini, Saturn's Little Big Explorer" in this 20-minute TED talk. He will be the banquet speaker for South Coast's National Engineers Week event at Cal State University Channel Islands' Grand Salon on Friday 2/22. I am considering attending the event.

2019/02/03 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Humor: Kabob-e barg, after the sharp rise of meat prices in Iran Calligraphic rendition of a verse by Mowlavi (Rumi), by artist Javad Youssefi This bust of the late Iranian wrestler Gholamreza Takhti is on display in the US (1) Miscellaneous images: [Left] Kabob-e barg, after the sharp rise of meat prices in Iran. (For Persian non-speakers, the meme plays on the fact that "leaf" and a type of beef kabob share the same Persian word.) [Center] Calligraphic rendition of a Mowlavi (Rumi) verse, by Javad Youssefi. (This video contains more of his creations). [Right] This bust of the late Iranian wrestler Gholamreza Takhti honors his gesture of competing with one arm behind his back, when he noticed that his American opponent couldn't use an injured arm.
(2) The 2018 Turing Lecture by John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson, entitled "A New Golden Age of Computer Architecture," has been published, along with a link to the full lecture video, in the February 2019 issue of Communications of the ACM.
(3) Quote of the day: "If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact—not to be solved, but to be coped with over time." ~ Shimon Peres [1923-2016], Israeli President
(4) Long view of life: "A painting that looks flawless from a distance may appear as a collection of color patches up close. Perhaps you should take a long view of life to avoid seeing just spots." ~ Zoya Pirzad, We'll Get Used to It [My translation from Persian]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Way to start Black History Month: Photo of Virginia's Democratic governor from his med-school yearbook.
- Golshifteh Farahani plays a Kurdish fighter battling ISIS in the film "Girls of the Sun." [Persian interview]
- Persian Music: Innovative lip-synching. [1-minute video]
- WW II history: Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin meet with each other and with Iran's Shah in Tehran. [Video]
(6) Aiming for defense funding: Today, I saw a TV ad from Boeing, touting its space technology and saying "the future of defense is here." It seems aerospace companies are positioning themselves to get a bigger piece of the "Space Force" pie.
(7) Another egotist builds a vanity tower: The 550-meter-tall Burj Jumeira in Dubai will display Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's thumb-print at its base.
(8) In its issue of February 4-11, 2019, Time magazine offers a special section on what to expect in the 2020s and another one on the socioeconomic changes in the 2030s.
(9) Trouble ahead for 2020: A new poll shows that 54% of Democrats feel party positions should be more moderate. About the same number think having a third party is good for the country. A third-party candidate won't draw many votes from Republicans, 87% of whom support Trump.

2019/02/02 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Flamboyant old man has a change of wardrobe! Iranian asylum seeker, journalist Behrouz Boochani, who wrote a book in Manus Island's offshore refugee detention camp, wins two of Australia's richest literary prizes Cartoon: The ideal Democratic candidate (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Roger Stone's change of wardrobe! [Center] Iranian asylum seeker, journalist Behrouz Boochani, who wrote a book in Manus Island's offshore refugee detention camp, wins two of Australia's richest literary prizes. [Right] The ideal candidate: "They want Biden's working-class appeal, Sanders's populist fervor, Beto's youthful charisma, Warren's fierce progressivism, Klobuchar's calm moderation, Harris's toughness, Brown's everyman image, Booker's media savvy, Gillibrand's feminist credentials, ..."
(2) Trump and the Republican Party seem headed for a divorce: Perhaps he is in search of a third party (like a third wife), after cheating on the first two (he was once a Democrat).
(3) Four days of expected rain (forecast), at times quite heavy, has led to evacuation orders for parts of Montecito, the area that was devastated by Thomas Fire and mud/debris flows last year. This downpour, captured around 7:50 AM at my home in Goleta, is good news for the drought in our area, but not so for the homeless or residents fearing another devastating mud/debris flow. By mid-afternoon, the sun had returned to Goleta, but US 101 is closed in both directions due to flooding and debris, and more rain is on the way over the next few days. Meanwhile, in Malibu, California, a street turns into a raging river.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Virginia's Democratic Governor urged to resign over revealed racist photo in his med-school yearbook.
- Aljazeera reports from Tehran on Islamic Republic's 40th-anniversary celebrations amid economic woes.
- America once loved billionaires: The likes of Donald Trump made it fall out of love with them.
- Iranian music and beautiful dance: No info about the performers. [3-minute video]
- A piece of space junk: A trash-bag-like object is circling the earth at a distance greater than the Moon's.
- Negar Ag's contribution to the site "Old Photos of Iran": Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah in Shiraz, 1974.
- A millennial made millions buying items off the clearance aisles of Walmart and reselling them on Amazon.
(5) Trump's love-hate relationship with the press: He grants an 85-minute interview to the "failing," "fake-news," and "enemy-of-the-people" New York Times, But it won't be long before he starts attacking it again.
(6) Recognizable speech generated from brain waves: The new Columbia University research results, published in Scientific Advances, raises hopes of being able to give voice to those without.
(7) Fiftieth-Anniversary celebration: Gathering in Tehran to honor the 1968 graduates of Tehran University's College of Engineering ("Daaneshkadeh-ye Fanni") will occur on Wednesday, February 20, 2019. [Invitation]
(8) Fake news super-sharers: A Northeastern University study has found that just 16 Twitter users tweeted out nearly 80% of the misinformation posing as news in 2016, while 99% of users spread virtually no fake information. Among people categorized as left-leaning and centrists, fewer than 5% shared any fake information, while 11% of accounts belonging to those described as right-leaning shared misinformation made to look like legitimate news.

2019/02/01 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Face made up of many faces Iran appears as #45 on 'New York Times' list of 52 travel destinations for 2019 Floating trash patch in the Pacific which is twice the size of Texas (1) Miscellaneous images: [Left] Face made up of many faces. [Center] Iran appears as #45 on New York Times' list of 52 travel destinations for 2019 (extra image). [Right] Floating trash: An estimated 1.2-2.4 million tons of plastic enters the oceans each year from rivers, accumulating in 5 different patches in the world's oceans. The largest of these, located between Hawaii and California, has an area twice the size of Texas or three times that of France (Photo credit: Time magazine, issue of February 4-11, 2019).
(2) On my 72nd birthday, as I do each year, I looked up the properties of the number 72. Here are the results.
Has 12 divisors, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 18, 24, 36, 72; Is half a gross, or six dozen; Is the product of 2^3 and 3^2; Is a master number, in esoteric numerology; Is the sum of four consecutive primes, 13 + 17 + 19 + 23; Is the sum of six consecutive primes, 5 + 7 + 11 + 13 + 17 + 19; Is the smallest number whose 5th power is the sum of five smaller 5th powers, 19^5 + 43^5 + 46^5 + 47^5 + 67^5; Is the measure of each exterior angle of a regular pentagon, in degrees; Is generally considered room temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit; Is the point size that makes characters 1 inch tall (a point is 1/72 of an inch); Is the number of strings (24 triple strings) on the Persian classical instrument santur; Is the number of virgins promised to martyrs in heaven, according to Islam; When appearing at the end of a year's number, makes it a leap year; When divided by the annual rate of return yields the number of years it takes for an investment to double ("The rule of 72").
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- More than 2 dozen deaths in 8 states blamed on the cold spell resulting from the polar vortex.
- Blackouts in the US Midwest add to the challenges posed by record-low temperatures.
- Trump not only lies himself but makes false statements on behalf of others!
- Good news on the women's rights front: Lebanon gets its first female Interior Minister. [Persian report]
- A poisonous variety of mushroom is spreading in North America's urban areas, putting children at risk.
- In a paper published in Nature Astronomy, scientists suggest that the universe's dark energy is growing.
- A fleet of robotic valets will park cars at London's Gatwick Airport.
- Amazon will fund many computer science classes at NY-area high schools ahead of its HQ2 placement.
(4) Multislacking: A relatively new word that means having multiple windows open on your screen to create the appearance of working, while actually slacking. [From an audio course entitled "The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins," which I am pursuing now.]
(5) Direct Relief International's new $40 million headquarters has been named after former UCSB Professor and nanotechnology pioneer Dr. Virgil Elings, who donated $5.1 million to complete its funding. Elings has donated significantly in Southern California and elsewhere, including to UCSB, Dos Pueblos High School, and other institutions. Direct Relief International is one of the most effective charities and does a remarkable job of distributing medicine and other supplies after natural disasters. I highly recommend donating to it.

2019/01/30 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Roger Stone is all smiles as he is arrested World Music Series: Dannsair performed Irish (dance) music in today's noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl Minnesota man wears shorts during the state's deepest freeze in decades, which can lead to frostbite in minutes (1) Images of the day: [Left] Rich people smile and have fun when they get arrested, while poor people become gloomy and nervous. [Center] World Music Series: Dannsair performed Irish (dance) music in today's noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl (see item 2 below for details). [Right] Unprecedented cold spell: Chicago city authorities lit fires under elevated train tracks to prevent damage to the rails. Meanwhile, this Minnesota man wears shorts during the state's deepest freeze in decades, which can cause frostbite in minutes.
(2) Noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl: Dannsair, a Santa Barbara-based band boasting several UCSB music graduates, performed wonderful Irish music, with the band leader providing colorful commentary. I had taken along my home-made egg-salad with crackers for lunch; the rose in this photo was given to me as I walked by the library on my way to the concert venue, for reasons unknown. Sample music follows. [Video 1] [Video 2, country-style film music] [Video 3, dance tune from "Titanic"] [Video 4, a jig tune] [Video 5; stayed a few minutes longer to record this one, and, as a result, had to run to make it to my 1:00 PM office hour!]
(3) Smear campaign against Robert Mueller and his investigation: Russians are using materials provided by Mueller's team to Concord Management, the indicted Russian company, to discredit the investigation into Moscow's election interference. Some of the documents used have been altered.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump celebrates a flat market over the past year, as DJIA returns to where it was on January 4, 2018.
- Seth Meyers' "A Closer Look": Informative and funny. Are we in for a wag-the-dog war in Venezuela?
- DNA testing may reveal the identities of anonymous sperm donors, creating problems at both ends.
- Fun with art: Mona Lisa brought to life by artist James Dean Wilson. [1-minute video]
- Wonderful street art, combining wall paintings with existing plants. [1-minute video]
- Persian music: A 1-minute video clip from Molook Zarrabi, a pioneering woman singer in Iran.
(5) The Robomart start-up in Santa Clara, CA, will soon dispatch "grocery stores on wheels" in some Greater-Boston neighborhoods. Customers summon the vehicles, open their sliding doors with a phone app, and are automatically charged as they remove the RFID-tagged items. [Photo]
(6) Sarah Huckabee Sanders: God wanted Trump to become president. Me: Perhaps Robert Mueller should include God in his Russia probe!
(7) Final thought for the day: "A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special." ~ Nelson Mandela

2019/01/29 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
This adorable little girl is disappointed at Iran losing to Japan 0-3 in soccer's Asian Cup semifinals Norway endeavors to build the world's first floating tunnel Coldest wind-chills from the polar vortex (weather map) (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] This adorable little girl is disappointed at Iran losing to Japan 0-3 in soccer's Asian Cup semifinals. [Center] Norway endeavors to build the world's first floating tunnel: Less visual clutter than a bridge, cheaper than a regular tunnel. [Right] Coldest wind-chills from the polar vortex: My thoughts are with Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri friends. Stay safe!
(2) Quote of the day: "Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing." ~ Author/poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
(3) Water returns to Zayandeh Rood: People of Isfahan celebrate in this undated video, as the river, whose name means "Life-Giving," sees water after a long drought.
(4) You can be freezing in the US Midwest today, while we experience one of the hottest years on record globally: Local weather fluctuations and long-term global climate trends are different things. Someone please show this video to Trump, although he will likely dismiss it as fake news.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Intelligence chiefs disagree with Trump on threats from Iran and North Korea and on the demise of ISIS.
- John Bolton lets the cat out of the bag by displaying his notepad, intentionally or absent-mindedly.
- This rich old white dude (Senator Graham) wants to manufacture another financial crisis over wall funding!
- Pink Martini: If you want hours of easy-listening jazz/Latin music, this YouTube channel is for you.
(6) A glitch in Apple's group FaceTime allows eavesdropping on conversations and access to your microphone and camera, before you join and even if you don't. Apple has disabled the feature until a fix is put in.
(7) Colonel Larry Wilkerson speaks up against a war with Iran: As a young man, he went to Vietnam to fight a war "built on lies." As an older man, he presided as Chief of Staff at the US State Department, where he helped justify another war built on lies, the Iraq war, which history will judge as a catastrophic geopolitical decision. Wilkerson says he wishes he had resigned at the time. Now, he sees the beginnings of another war built on lies and warns us that "we have seen this picture before." The new lies are promoted by the same people who helped start the Iraq war. [5-minute video]
Images about the documentary 'The Point of No Return' about the first fully solar-powered flight around the world (8) "Point of No Return": This was the title of a 2018 feature film screened at UCSB's Pollock Theater tonight. The film documents the story of the first fully solar-powered flight around the world. The challenging 26,000-mile journey took 505 days, at an average speed of about 45 MPH. The aircraft, with 17,000 solar cells and a wingspan of 235 ft, weighed only 2.4 tons. The control room filled with support staff looked very much like that of a space mission. The screening was followed by a moderated discussion with the film's co-directors, Noel Dockstader and Quinn Kanaly. [Images]

2019/01/28 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Screen shot from BBC Persian's 'Pargar' program on Iranian women's agency (1) Women's agency in Iran: BBC Persian's "Pargar" program features a 52-minute debate between Prof. Nayereh Tohidi (someone who grew up in a traditional family but rose to high educational attainment and was a participant in the Revolution) and Ms. Soudeh Rad (a women's-rights activist who was born after the Revolution and has directly experienced only Iran's Islamic government and its misogynistic laws).
The debate's topic is whether the remarkable activism of Iranian women is at least in part due to the Islamic Revolution or occurs in spite of it. This is an important discussion that should be continued.
The differences in viewpoints between the two guests are subtle, as both are devout feminists (and end up endorsing each other's views on many points), but I find myself in greater agreement with Ms. Rad that the restrictions imposed on women by Iran's Islamic rulers and their patriarchal supporters have motivated women to act but have also served to channel their activism into relatively safer secondary disobedience (not donning "proper" hijab, wearing colorful clothes, and pursuit of beauty, including opting for cosmetic surgery), rather than a true pursuit of equality.
As Dr. Tohidi states, in sociopolitical domains, it is difficult to answer hypothetical questions such as where Iranian women would be today, that is, more or less empowered, had the Islamic Revolution not occurred, but my gut feeling tells me that they would be better off than they are today. It is indeed unclear whether Iranian women's greater presence at institutions of higher learning or as book authors, to cite just two examples, would have been as extensive in the absence of the Islamic Revolution.
(2) Returning from class just before noon, I encountered a "Take a Nap" sign from UCSB Health & Wellness, along with a table, presumably offering tips on taking a nap. Alas, I had to be at my office hour at noon!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The beginning of an announcement e-mail from NSF about resumption of scientific activities.
- Thank you anti-vaxxers for bringing measles back to the US. Making America great again!
- Upcoming winter and spring events in UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran. [Table]
- Upcoming events at UCLA sponsored by Pourdavoud Center for the Study of the Iranian World. [Table]
- Humor: Iranian man's secret to catching fish! [1-minute video]
- Persian music: Bahar Choir honors Iranian opera singer Pari Zangeneh, 79, in this touching tribute.
- "It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out; it's the grain of sand in your shoe." ~ Robert W. Service
(4) Bias as a human defense mechanism against information overload: The remarkable human brain can store several terabytes of information, according to Robert Birge of Syracuse University, yet this is only one-millionth of the information produced in the world each day, per IBM estimates. So, we have to be extremely selective about the information we choose to remember. In his 1970 book, Future Shock, Alvin Tofler hypothesized that one way of dealing with information overload is to simplify the world in ways that confirm our biases, shedding nuances and key details in the process. As a result, rather than serving to bring us together, more information tends to push us into the familiar confines of our biases.
Also relevant to the notions above is a view of judgment as lazy thinking (from an October 2018 Facebook post of mine). When you see something new, your brain goes into overdrive until you identify it and assign a noun to it ("Oh, that's a fork"); you then relax and stop thinking. The same is true with regard to people ("Oh, that's a Latino/feminist/Republican"). Stoppage of thinking at this point makes you miss all the nuances. [Video]
(5) Final thought for the day: "Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it." ~ Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

2019/01/27 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of Time magazine, issue of January 28, 2019 (1) How to fix social media before it's too late: Early tech investor Roger McNamee opines on democracy, privacy, controlling your data, regulation, making it human, addiction, and protecting children. A must-read for anyone who cares and worries about where social media are taking us.
In the same issue of Time magazine:
- Tim Cook urges taking action on privacy.
- Maria Ressa expresses optimism that FB can fulfill its original promise.
- Laurie Segall demarcates some of the scary aspects of technology.
- Eli Pariser vouches for restoring dignity to technology.
- Donald Graham indicates that he'd bet on FB's efforts to fix its mistakes.
(2) Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day: Let's remember the atrocities and renew our "never again" pledge! This UN-designated day commemorates the genocide that led to the death of 6 million Jews, 1 million Gypsies, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.
(3) If everyone thinks outside the box, things in the box won't get done!
(4) History of space-flight computers: In the article "First-Hand Hacking Apollo's Guidance Computer," Walt Whipple gives a first-person account of how a hack of a relatively primitive computer to allow memory and I/O channel dumps facilitated system diagnostics. [Related link: "Human Space Travel Primary Sources"]
(5) "US Sanctions: Unfulfilled Expectations and Challenges Facing the Iranian Economy" (Slides/Charts): This was the title of today's Persian lecture at UCLA's Dodd Hall, Room 121, which will repeat tomorrow in English at Kaplan Hall, Room 365, as part of the Iranian Studies Outreach Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran. The speaker, Dr. Hashem Pesaran, is a Distinguished Chair Professor of Economics at USC and Emeritus Professor of Economics at Trinity College, Cambridge. Professor Pesaran has earned numerous recognitions, including honorary degrees, in the course of his career.
Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, Professor of Gender and Women Studies at Cal State Northridge and Coordinator of UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series, introduced the speaker and moderated the discussion that followed the lecture.
Dr. Pesaran began with what he called the good news, Iran's economic potential in theory, before dealing with the bad news of why the potential is not realized in practice. In the 40 years since the Islamic Revolution, a number of hardships (wars and sanctions) and internal mismanagement have impacted the country's economy. Iran's $425-billion economy is the second largest in the region, after Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, Iran possesses the world's largest natural-gas reserves, a young population (60% under 30), a citizenry that is 15% university-educated, and a vast cultural heritage (22 UNESCO World Heritage Sites).
There is now enough data from Iran's economy (18 years prior to the Islamic Revolution, that is, 1960-1978, and 40 years after) to carry out analyses and issue verdicts about what has caused the dysfunction. Post-Revolution, Iran has had a 2.5% annual growth, compared with 3.1% for Middle East and North Africa as a whole. Iran's GDP growth nearly matches its population growth, implying that things remain the same on a per-capita basis. Inflation has averaged 17%, falling to 10% after JCPOA but rising again with the new sanctions. Averages, of course, do not tell the entire story, as they do not reflect volatilities and fluctuations that create economic uncertainty.
The unemployment rate has averaged 12%, but it is much higher for the youth and women (30-40%). Economic growth fell significantly after the Revolution. This drop and the aforementioned volatility are evident in the chart in one of the slides, where the red line reflects the world average. Another slide shows the currency exchange rate, where blue signifies the official rate and red denotes the free-market rate. This duality of exchange rate (there are actually more than two rates) as well as subsidizing essential products is one of the sources of rampant corruption, as people and organizations take advantage of their access to more favorable rates to make ilicit profits. Yet another slide shows the value-drop of the Iranian rial during the terms of various recent Iranian presidents (Rafsanjani, factor of 5.8; Khatami, 4.9; Ahmadinejad, 3.7; Rouhani, 3.4).
Dr. Pesaran then discussed the effects of cumulative inflation, which although not a direct cause of currency devaluation, is related to it. The difference between average inflation in Iran (17%) and the US (3%) causes significant cumulative inflation, which sometimes leads the rise of the dollar and sometimes trails it, but the two indicators rise pretty much in tandem (slide, with blue line showing the price of dollar and red line representing cumulative inflation). For comparison, the corresponding figures for other countries in the region and a couple of oil-producing countries outside the region (included to show that possessing oil isn't necessarily the curse) are shown on one of the slides.
Dr. Pesaran pointed to economic mismanagement as the primary cause of Iran's economic woes. Part of this mismanagement pertains to populist policies that don't make economic sense, lack of stable policies with regard to the private sector, the existence of a huge semi-private sector, outdated banking and financial systems, and, as pointed out earlier, having multiple exchange rates that lead to inflation and corruption.
The effects of sanctions are highlighted on one of the slides, where economic growths during the low-impact sanctions of 1990-2005 and high-impact sanctions of 2006-2015 are compared. Using the average of some countries forming our comparison group, one can deduce that about 2.5% of the growth dip can be attributed to world economy and the rest is damage resulting from sanctions.
Another chart in the slides compares Iran's domestic oil use with production. Still another slide, depicting Iran's poverty map, shows that as low as the economic growth has been, its benefits have gone predominantly to the rich, which has led to a worsening of poverty in the country. Interestingly, Iran has always enjoyed substantial foreign currency reserves, which could have been used for controlling the exchange rate, but weren't.
Dr. Pesaran then showed portions of President Trump's Executive Order (see two of the slides) regarding Iran sanctions and urged everyone to examine it carefully. Explicitly included in the Order are concerns about Iran's missiles program and its automotive industries which, for some reason, are seen as threatening to the US.
To summarize, sanctions have had significant direct and indirect effects on the Iranian economy. However, the major share of the blame for Iran's economic woes goes to inept economic policies, including the tendency to pursue isolationism. Today's world does not allow isolationist economies to prosper. Even China, which was isolated for many decades, can no longer ignore the global economy and return to isolationism.
The Iranian government has recognized the importance of technology to the country's economy, which has led to less control over Internet access and emergence of higher-quality communication services. DigiKala, Iran's version of Amazon, has had a significant impact on making prices transparent, thus empowering consumers to find better deals, which were unavailable with secret, arbitrary prices of yore. This is a trend that cannot be reversed and is a positive omen overall.
[Note: The version of this report posted on Facebook also has a Persian version at the end.]

2019/01/26 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Image of robotic hand, playing chess Four-layer pudding-jello dessert for today's family gathering Misogynists at work: Photo of a friend, PhotoShopped by the staff of an Iranian scientific journal where her paper was published, to make her long, flowing hair and smile disappear (1) Random images: [Left] Google's AlphaZero, which trained itself and beat the human-trained Go champion AlphaGo program, now also excels at Chess and Shogi: The next frontier is for it to tackle more challenging games that entail imperfect information (Go and Chess are examples of games that are played with perfect information). [Center] Dessert for today's family gathering: Layers from the bottom are sandwich cookies (not visible), sugar-free lemon pudding, sugar-free orange jello, and fruit toppings. [Right] Misogynists at work: A friend posted this photo of her, PhotoShopped by the staff of an Iranian scientific journal where her paper was published, to make her long, flowing hair and smile disappear. I commented thus: "They are so stuck in the Middle Ages that it's laughable. The funny thing is that the person enforcing these ridiculous laws may not even believe in them himself; he is just following the mob. They are also afraid of smiling people. I remember the anti-smile question: 'Nishet chera baazeh?' So sad!"
(2) This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill: The spill left an indelible mark on the idyllic South-Coast community and helped spur the national environmental movement, including the establishment of Earth Day to raise awareness. [Images from Santa Barbara Independent]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- FBI Director Wray slams the government shutdown which has affected all his underlings in serious ways.
- There is an $18,000 gender pay gap among scientists, according to the latest salary-data analysis.
- What is the hardest part of studying computer science? Getting into classes you need to graduate.
- Bodies-on-a-chip: Proxies for living beings may alleviate the need for lab animals, help cure diseases.
- What do Mars astronauts and the elderly have in common? Loneliness, osteoporosis, muscle-mass loss.
- George Mason University's student meal plans now include an option for food delivery by a fleet of robots.
- Dueling instruments: Guitarist mimics the rhythms and sounds of tonbak (goblet drum). [3-minute video]
- Persian music: LA-based Lian Ensemble is coming to UCSB on Friday, February 9. [10-minute video]
(4) The most-productive plane factory: Boeing 737 assembly line, where 42 planes roll off per month, each one taking 9 days from start to finish (which means more than a dozen planes are being worked on at once).
(5) The effect of a terminal master's degree: According to Computing Research Association, those with a terminal master's degree prior to earning a PhD in computing are twice as likely to have first-author journal publications than those without a terminal master's degree.
(6) Trump signs temporary end to government shutdown: He went from deal-man to tariff-man. Now, his nickname has changed to cave-man, because he caved. Some consider this nickname an insult to cavemen.

2019/01/25 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Screening of 'Let It Be' at UCSB's Pollock Theater on January 24, 2019: Image 1 Screening of 'Let It Be' at UCSB's Pollock Theater on January 24, 2019: Image 2 Screening of 'Let It Be' at UCSB's Pollock Theater on January 24, 2019: Image 3 (1) "Beatles Revolutions" film series: The second of five Beatles-related films, "Let It Be," was screened at UCSB's Pollock Theater last night. The packed house was also treated to a discussion (moderated by UCSB's David Novak) about the film with Santa-Barbara-native musician and producer Alan Parsons, of the "Alan Parsons Project" fame, who was a 20-year-old sound person at the Beatles January 29, 1969, roof-top concert prominently featured in the documentary film. The film, intended to showcase the band's creative process, ended up documenting the Fab Four's final days together, as the film was released a month after the Beatles disbanded. Tensions among Paul, John, George, and Ringo are evident as they rehearse and perform at the iconic concert atop London's Apple Studio.
(2) Bus Line 28 between UCSB campus and Camino Real Marketplace: This afternoon, I rode a brand-new tram/train-like double-length bus. Line-28 rides are free to UCSB faculty/staff/students, providing a convenient way of getting to shopping and alternative dining joints. [Photos of the inside and outside of the bus]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Skilled fed workers consider private-sector careers: So, when the shutdown ends, its effects will linger.
- Trump friend and confidant Roger Stone has been indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
- Comedy news: Seth Meyers takes a closer look at government shutdown and official reactions.
- Cartoon of the day: US government shutdown. [Uncle Sam needs winding up!]
- The penny that sold for $204,000: The 1943 penny had been minted in bronze instead of zinc-coated steel.
- Amazon's cooler-box-size delivery robot rolls along sidewalks to deliver packages in north Seattle.
- Give/accept hugs when you can: They're good for your health; even animals need them! [2-minute video]
- Heavenly Iranian food, served at a popular restaurant in Tehran's Bazaar. [1-minute video]
- Regional folk music of Iran: A wonderful performance of "Mah Pishanoo." [3-minute video]
- Magic act involving cigarettes and paper napkins: This act is hard to watch, but impressive nonetheless.
(4) Violinist Leonidas Kavakos in concert at UCSB's Campbell Hall tonight: Kavakos was superb throughout, playing some very challenging pieces, particularly right after the intermission and at the very end (Program). Enrico Pace, the pianist who accompanied Kavakos was every bit as good. A treat in every way!
Here is an 11-minute sample of the violin maestro's work on YouTube.
[In the margins: Watching the performance tonight, it occurred to me that if there is one job in the world that can be easily removed/automated it is that of the page-turner for a pianist. The page turner must be musically savvy to know when to turn the page, making her (yes, it's usually a woman) the least-efficiently utilized talent on any stage. True, the job can be viewed as a form of apprenticeship, but still ...]

2019/01/24 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cutlet sandwich with mint: What I took along to eat during yesterday's noon music concert A clear view of the Channel Islands in Goleta yesterday, 2019/01/23 Cartoon: Iranian government's budget allocation to different constituents, graphically illustrated (1) Images of the day: [Left] Cutlet sandwich with mint: What I took along to eat during yesterday's noon music concert. And no, I did not eat both of them at once! [Center] A clear view of the Channel Islands in Goleta yesterday: This spring-like sunny day made us forget the cold, wet days of last week, but winter rains are not over. [Right] Iranian government's budget allocation to different constituents, graphically illustrated.
(2) Trump's new rhyming message for his campaign generates huge backlash: He wrote, "Build a wall & crime will fall," to which people responded, "Oppose a wall & Trump will fall" and "Mexico will pay, you used to say"!
(3) Trump named Nancy Pelosi in a statement and followed her full name by "whom I call Nancy": Sounded like he was ready to reveal a nickname/insult for Pelosi, but chickened out at the last second.
(4) After Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani said he may be remembered in his eulogy for lying for Trump, the Internet is having fun with suggestions on what should be etched on his tombstone: "Here lies Rudy Giuliani. And everywhere lied Rudy Giuliani." [Image]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Democrats' and Trump's plans to re-open the government both fail in the US Senate: Now what?
- After Giuliani's denial that plans for Trump Tower Moscow ever existed, BuzzFeed published this image.
- Political Humor: Trump's plan-B is to deliver the State of the Union Address at a DC McDonald's.
- Actor Jorge Antonio Guerrero, star of Oscar-nominated "Roma," is denied US visa to attend the Oscars.
- Iranian FM Zarif met with Iraqi minorities re their rights and national unity: Will he do the same in Iran?
- Woman who accused Iranian MP of rape found dead: Not known whether it was suicide or murder.
- Cargo plane crash in Iran kills 15 of 16 on board: Failed navigation system blamed. No one else was hurt.
- Spring-like weather, with highs of ~70 degrees, in store for us in Santa Barbara for another week. [Image]
(6) Social harm coming from child marriages: There is much discussion on Twitter about child marriages in Iran, with users sharing personal stories from their own or their friends' experiences. Here is one example.
(7) A bit late for MLK Day, but still worth posting: Martin Luther King is remembered mostly for his "I Have a Dream" speech, envisaging equal opportunities, regardless of one's skin color. Lesser known is his more poignant speech about Vietnam, in which he characterized the war as an enemy of the poor, given that young black men were sent to "guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem." [Adapted from an article by Viet Thanh Nguyen, in Time magazine, issue of Jan. 28, 2019]
(8) Final thought for the day: "The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist." ~ Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

2019/01/23 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The colorful fire-throated hummingbird David T. Walter's colorful carpet made of 2500 Hot Wheels toys Colorful art from a collection of temporary tattoos (1) Art and nature in full color: [Left] Fire-throated hummingbird. [Center] Traffic jam: David T. Walter turns 2500 Hot Wheels toys into a colorful carpet. [Right] Colorful art from a collection of temporary tattoos.
(2) A lie has no horn or tail: This Persian saying advises us that lies sometimes look quite normal, so we must be vigilant in identifying and exposing them. A historian did just that about Mike Pence's statement that likened Donald Trump to MLK.
(3) Losers who feel entitled to love and sex aren't as uncommon as one might think: A massacre of the kind this man was thinking about (killing as many girls as he could) happened near UCSB some 5 years ago. We all need to learn to see the signs and to act on suspicious behavior on social media and elsewhere.
(4) Energy intensity of transportation: According to an opinion piece in the Jan. 2019 issue of IEEE Spectrum, a single person driving a Honda Civic consumes 2 megajoules of energy per passenger-kilometer (2 MJ/pkm). With two occupants in the car, the energy intensity drops to 1 MJ/pkm, the same as that of a half-full bus. A full jetliner has an energy intensity of 1.5 MJ/pkm. Newer inter-city high-speed trains in Europe and Japan consume about 0.2 MJ/pkm. The best subways require less than 0.1 MJ/pkm, making them the least energy-intensive mode of transportation.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Remarkable examples of cooperation, coordination, and trust. [2-minute video]
- Persian music: Paris-based Bahar Choir collaborates with, and performs a piece by, Majid Derakhshan.
- Persian music: Chance meeting of two young Iranian pianists, Saman Ehteshami and Payam Samimi.
- Persian music: Rana Mansour's jazzy "Shohar-e Pooldar Nemikham" ("I Don't Want a Rich Husband").
(6) The fight for the future of the disk drive: Recording-density improvements of around 40% per year over the past few decades have recently dropped to ~10%. Seagate and Western Digital, aware of this problem, have opted for different approaches to solving it, one using microwave-assisted magnetic recording and the other using heat assist. It remains to be seen which approach wins. [From: IEEE Spectrum, issue of January 2019]
(7) World Music Series noon concert: Mariachi Las Olas de SB was supposed to perform at UCSB's Music Bowl today, but they couldn't make it. Instead a few members of two different local mariachi bands appeared and did an excellent job of entertaining the crowd and getting everyone involved in sing-alongs. [Video 1] [Video 2]
(8) Final thought for the day: "Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty." ~ Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

2019/01/22 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for Adam Barr's 'The Problem with Software: Why Smart Engineers Write Bad Code' This year's Oscar-nominated lead actors and actresses A clever bookstore sign reads: Alternative facts can be found in our fiction section (1) Oscar nominees, sandwiched between book-related images: [Left] When good engineers write bad software: Interview with Adam Barr, author of a new book on software development, Why Smart Engineers Write Bad Code. [Center] This year's Oscar-nominated lead actors and actresses. (List of Oscar nominees) [Right] A clever bookstore sign reads: Alternative facts can be found in our fiction section.
(2) CS neuroscience faculty candidate talk: Decisions, decisions! There were two interesting but overlapping talks on campus this afternoon. Normally, in such cases, I choose one of the talks to attend, but today, I decided to sample the 3:30 talk and show up a tad late to the 4:00 talk. And I am glad I did!
Michael Bayeler (post-doc, U. Washington) talked about "Biologically Inspired Algorithms for Restoring Vision to the Blind." My understanding of the field of retinal prostheses is that most kinds of blindness and other visual impairments will soon disappear, as we learn to integrate light sensors with human brain's visual signal processing system.
Dr. Beyeler presented and discussed evidence showing nontrivial perceptual distortions caused by interactions between implant electronics and retinal neurophysiology. He then discussed how detailed knowledge of the visual system can be combined with data-driven techniques to develop novel encoding algorithms aimed at minimizing distortions and improving patient outcomes. He closed by outlining future strategies for leveraging virtual/augmented reality to quickly and efficiently test novel stimulation strategies in real-world tasks using visually typical individuals as 'virtual patients.' [Images]
Dr. Maryam Kia-Keating delivering a lecture at UCSB Library's Pacific View Room (3) UCSB Library's Pacific View Lecture: Dr. Maryam Kia-Keating (UCSB Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology, www.kiakeating.com) presented a very interesting and informative lecture this afternoon under the title "Exiled: Loss and Resilience Among Refugee and Forcibly Displaced Youth and Communities." [Slides]
When we think of refugees, we often visualize war and political unrest. However, forced displacements also occur because of economic instability, violence, natural disasters, and, most recently, climate change. The refugee problem is now worse than it has ever been, with one person forcibly displaced every 2 seconds worldwide. More than half of the refugees are children, who are particularly vulnerable to the sense of hopelessness resulting from having no home. The perils of being stateless was masterfully portrayed in the movie "Terminal," in which Tom Hanks played a man who was not wanted by any country, ending up spending 18 years inside Paris Airport.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by all UN member countries except for the US, will become 30 years old later this year. Ratifying states must act in the best interests of the child, which means compliance with child custody and guardianship laws, honoring children's basic rights, including the right to life, to their own name, and identity, to be raised by their parents within a family or cultural grouping, and to have a relationship with both parents, even if they are separated. These rights are obviously in greater jeopardy in the case of child refugees. One key cause for having so many stateless children is the fact than women do not possess the same citizenship and other rights as men.
Psychological impacts on child and adult refugees are not limited to the pre-migration period, as the migration itself, and re-settlement in the post-migration period are also serious stress factors. Occasionally, children are so impacted by loss of hope that they lose consciousness and may even become comatose, with no apparent medical cause.
People become de-sensitized to the plight of refugees when they are called "illegal immigrants." In fact, seeking refuge from war, violence, and other causes of trauma is legal worldwide. A key observation is that refugees must be empowered to become participants and partners, rather than be mere subjects (e.g., get them involved in taking photos, rather than becoming subjects of other people's photos). As observed by the founder of Chobani (a highly successful yogurt company), himself an immigrant, the moment a dislocated person gets a job, s/he ceases to be a refugee.
Far from being vulnerable and delicate individuals, immigrants are less likely to suffer chronic disease or premature death for the leading causes of death. This surprising outcome is known as the Immigrant Paradox. And the effect is not limited to health. Recent immigrants tend to outperform more-established immigrants and non-immigrants on education, conduct, and crime-related outcomes, despite the barriers they face to successful social integration.
Dr. Kia-Keating's talk is related to this year's "UCSB Reads" selection, Thi Bui's memoir entitled The Best We Could Do, which portrays her family's history in Vietnam and her parent's escape to the US. The book will be the subject of many campus-wide discussions, culminating in a public lecture by the author on April 25, 2019.
[In the margins: These photos include a panoramic view of the 8th-floor Pacific View Room, views from the room's windows, and the glass enclosure where an up-to-date scale-model of the entire campus is kept.]

2019/01/21 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Martin Luther King Day! Last night's 'super blood wolf moon' lunar eclipse Some of the honorees on the Forbes list of America's Top 50 Women in Tech (1) Images of the day: [Left] Happy Martin Luther King Day! (See item 2 below) [Center] Last night's "super blood wolf moon" lunar eclipse, with totality from 8:41 to 9:44 PM, PST. This total lunar eclipse will be the last ofits kind until 2033. [Right] Forbes issues list of America's Top 50 Women in Tech.
(2) Dr. King's message of love, peace, unity, and respect must be repeated more than ever, in order to counteract the hate, conflict, division, and discourtesy practiced by the current US administration. "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
[P.S.: This weekend, we also marked two ominous occasions: Entering the third year of Trump's presidency and the second month of the US government shutdown.]
(3) Holland plans to teach the basics of AI to its citizens: The first phase of the ambitious plan entails educating 1% of the population (~ 55,000 people). [While we are occupied by government shutdown, building a wall, and bringing coal jobs back, other countries are preparing for the second half of the 21st century!]
(4) Women's rights: The right to enter a shrine in South India has sparked an intense national battle over women's rights. Two women who entered the forbidden Hindu Temple are now in hiding for fear of their lives.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Oil pipeline blast in Mexico kills 66.
- Raising taxes on the super-rich has broad support: 71/60/45% among Democrats/independents/Republicans.
- On Trump and lies: As the saying goes, people living in glass houses shouldn't be throwing stones. [Tweets]
- Trump always hires the best, the smartest, people: Then, they all turn dumb, lowlife, or crazy! [Cartoon]
- Comedian recalls when he was introduced to God and Jesus as a 4-year-old. [English; Persian subtitles]
- The average American lives in 11 different residences over a lifetime (mine is 18). [From an Allstate TV ad]
(6) Lectures on Iran at UCLA next week: Dr. Hashem Pesaran (USC Distinguished-Chair Economics Professor) will speak on "US Sanctions: Unfulfilled Expectations and Challenges Facing the Iranian Economy" (Sunday, January 27, 4:00 PM, Dodd Hall 121, in Persian; Monday, January 28, 4:00 PM, Kaplan 365, in English). [Flyer]
(7) On lies and politics: I tried to find the original wording of this Persian translation of a Hana Arendt quote but did not succeed: When a society faces organized lying, telling the truth turns into a political act. The truth-teller, even if not motivated politically, becomes a political activist. Under these conditions, you cannot set politics aside and go your own way: You must either join the ministry of deception or become a dissident.

2019/01/19 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Women's March Santa Barbara participants pass in front of the SB Courthouse on Anacapa Street Map of Vanak, Tehran, Iran, around 50 years ago, constructed from memory Selfie taken on my way back from Women's March Santa Barbara (1) Images of the day: [Left] Women's March Santa Barbara participants pass in front of the SB Courthouse on Anacapa Street. [Center] Map of Vanak, Tehran, Iran, around 50 years ago, constructed from memory (see the personal history under the last item below). [Right] On my way back from Women's March Santa Barbara, with my T-shirt message: "Fem.i.nism (fem-uh-niz-uhm), The radical notion that women are people."
(2) Women's March Santa Barbara: The program began at De La Guerra Plaza with song and dance performances, followed by a Chumash prayer and speeches by local politicians and community leaders. It then continued by marching westward on State Street, returning via Anacapa [Photos] [World Dance performing to the global women's anthem "Break the Chains"] [March video 1] [March video 2] [March video 3].
(3) Trouble among women marchers: Allegations of anti-semitism against the national organization coordinating the marches nationwide may have hampered participation this year. Santa Barbara's organizers reiterated their commitment to diversity and full equality during a TV appearance yesterday, as they claimed independence from the national organization.
(4) Vanak, Tehran, Iran (a personal history; see the map above): Vanak is a neighborhood in North Tehran, where my family lived from 1958 to 1991. A well-known traffic circle, near major thoroughfares in the capital city, and a tree-lined street in the area are named "Vanak." The neighborhood's name comes from a village that still existed in the 1980s; the name "Vanak" means "small (ash) tree."
At the time we lived there, major landmarks in Vanak included Iran Plan & Budget Organization's Factory #5, where my dad worked as an engineer for many years, a historic Armenian village/fort surrounded by walls, and, later on, the Girls' College (built on an abandoned cemetery and land acquired from private owners) and later renamed Farah Pahlavi University and, after the Islamic Revolution, Alzahra University. The neighborhood now boasts a major Armenian Sports Club (Ararat) and is home to high-rise residential and commercial buildings. Hotel Vanak, an amusement park, named "Fun Faar" (derived from the English "Fun Fair"), and a miniature golf course used to occupy three of Vanak Circle's corners, with the high-rise Sheraton Hotel not far away.
We lived at two locations in Vanak, both alongside the extension of Vanak Avenue, where it veered to the north upon passing the Factory Circle and its bus stop.
The first location, was a rented 5-room apartment in Alizadeh Building, named after the owner. We lived at one end of the building, on the second floor. The building's first floor on the street side was taken up by businesses, including a small grocery store, or baghghaali, a metal-working shop (which made doors, windows, and fences, and treated us to banging, welding, and grinding sounds all day long), and a workshop/mini-factory that my dad occupied to make metal furniture, including folding beds that were in high demand. The building had a large garden on its back side, which was out of bounds to us, except when the owner's rep, who occupied a first-floor unit, let us in to use the algae-covered, green-water pool.
The second location was at a 1.5-story building that my dad designed and built to house his workshop/factory and a residential quarter for the family. There were also a couple of street-front shops, which he planned to use as the factory's offices and, perhaps, rent out to other businesses. Soon he closed his factory and the large hall where metal furniture pieces were to be built became our over-size living room. The backyard had flower beds and trees along the sides and a swimming pool in the middle, which for some reason was rarely filled with water. Most of the family photos we have from those days show an empty swimming pool. My dad had a deep well dug in one corner of the yard for our water supply and built a simple structure on the far end of the yard, which held a largish warehouse on one side and toilet/shower facilities on the other. Later remodeling added a bathroom at the main part of the house, sparing us from having to walk through rain and snow, shovel in hand, for bathroom visits!
My parents sold the latter house dirt-cheap when they immigrated to the US to join their children. Later, the building was demolished to accommodate a street-widening project, which gobbled up much of the land. The new owner erected a multi-story building on the back side of the lot to take the greatest advantage of the now-more-valuable land. I have seen recent photos of the area where our house once stood, which is totally unrecognizable to me.
P.S.: Whenever Queen Farah came to visit the university in Vanak, or, less frequently, when the Shah visited, the potholes on the main road were filled, dirt roads in the area were sprinkled with water, vegetation was trimmed (and sometimes new flower bushes planted), and the crumbling walls on both sides of the road were painted over. Everything went back to its normal crummy state in a few days!

2019/01/18 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Fake issue of <i>The Washington Post</i>, recently distributed in the DC area Super-Moon total lunar eclipse Map of Iran, comparing its provinces to other world countries in terms of area (1) Interesting images: [Left] Fake issue of The Washington Post, recently distributed in the DC area. [Center] Super-Moon lunar eclipse coming on Sunday 1/20, beginning at 10:34 PM EST: Super-Moon is when the Moon is closest to Earth and thus appears larger. The event will last for 3.5 hours, giving us 63 minutes of totality. [Right] It's a big country: Map of Iran, comparing its provinces to other world countries in terms of area.
(2) Beauty isn't the only thing that's in the eye of the beholder: Perceptions vary. It's possible for the same object to be perceived as a sphere by one person and as a cube by another.
(3) History in pictures: This newspaper clipping shows Donald Trump in Tehran, ca. 1978, accompanied by actors Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty. Trump's plans to build a casino on Iran's Caspian coast were scrapped due to political unrest preceding the Islamic Revolution.
[Correction: The photo in the clipping was actually taken in Africa and the rest of the story is likely fake.]
(4) [Political humor] Breaking news: Democrats have agreed to funding the wall to reopen the government, on the condition that Trump stays on the other side of the wall!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump fired Comey and Flynn on advice from Kushner, who told him it will help end the Russia probe.
- Persian music: A tender poem in praise of mother, recited by singer/poet Homay. [8-minute video]
- Those were the days: Tehran, Iran, ca. 1956. [9-minute video]
- A UK immigration officer placed his wife's name on a terror watch list after she traveled to Pakistan.
(6) Where is ardent Trump supporter Devin Nunes? After a period of disappearance, he is back in the news, because Robert Mueller and Manhattan federal prosecutors are looking into a breakfast meeting he attended, along with Michael Flynn and a number of foreign officials in connection with Trump's inaugural celebrations.
(7) Connections coming to light: A computer tech specialist working for Jerry Falwell Jr.'s Liberty University was paid by Trump to manipulate on-line polls in his favor.
(8) Four US soldiers killed in Syria by the supposedly-defeated ISIS: Will there be endless investigations of this incident, as there were for the four Americans who died in Benghazi, Libya?
(9) Temporary river: I took this photo at Goleta's Coal Oil Point, where the Devereux Slough connects to the ocean when it's full. Water is seen flowing into the ocean at low tide. In this 2.5-minute video, water is seen flowing into the ocean at low tide. My narration is barely audible over the sounds of the wind and raging water.

2019/01/17 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Dangers of vehicles driving on UCSB campus walkways, Photo 1 Colorful patterns, natural and artificial (photo montage) Dangers of vehicles driving on UCSB campus walkways, Photo 2 (1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Poor planning endangers safety at UCSB: The new Bioengineering Building on our campus (like several older buildings) does not have any road access, so the only way to get to the parking and deliveries area behind it is via driving a significant distance on a busy walkway. Yesterday, Wednesday 1/16, as I was walking back to my office around 1:00 PM, I observed a large delivery truck drive on the walkway to the east of the Bioengineering Building to get to the delivery area on its north side; several other cars were parked in that lot, which must have gotten there by driving on the same busy walkway. How did this multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art project get approved without mitigating its vehicle access problem? [Center] Photo montage: Colorful patterns, natural and artificial.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Senior Pentagon personnel are nervous about Trump's unpredictability and his politicization of the military.
- Pelosi told Trump he could deliver the State-of-The-Union address in writing: Here's a leaked draft copy.
- An apparently record-breaking ice disk measuring 300 feet in diameter floats on a Maine river in the US.
- Southern Californians are alarmed that they have not been able to drive with their sun-roofs open for 3 days!
- The Republican Party of the 21st-century America: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. [Image]
- Some English terms for money. [Image]
- Persian poetry: Mr. Haloo's humorous poem about a just-married couple and their first night together.
- Old-time Iranian singer Hooshmand Aghili gets emotional as he is honored by his peers.
- The story behind Costco's Kirkland brand, which has helped it increase profits as other retailers struggle.
(3) An embarrassment of riches: In a third talk by a CS neuroscience faculty candidate in as many days, Hannah Choi (post-doc at U. Washington; PhD in applied math from Northwestern) spoke today under the title "Bridging Structure, Dynamics, and Computation in Brain Networks." Because the talk overlapped with another talk that was of greater interest to me, I did not attend. This post will serve as a reminder for me to pursue the subject later. [Dr. Hannah Choi's Web page]
(4) "Zero-Carbon Cloud: Reducing the Cloud's Growing Carbon Footprint and Enabling High-Renewable Power Grid": This was the title of a talk this afternoon by Dr. Andrew Chien (U. Chicago), sponsored by UCSB's Institute for Energy Efficiency. Data centers and other cloud infrastructure are energy-intensive and, despite the efforts expended and claims made (e.g., by Google), we are a long way from achieving zero-emission powering of the cloud. In connection with the goal of a zero-carb cloud, Dr. Chien discussed a number of computing research challenges, including resource prediction, adaptive workload distribution, new distributed protocols, and novel business models.
(5) Film screening at UCSB's Pollock Theater: As part of the "Beatles Revolutions" series, the 1964 film "A Hard Day's Night" was screened tonight, followed by a discussion with journalist Ivor Davis, who accompanied the Beatles on their 5-week North-American tour. The 1964 tour was kicked off with an appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Director Richard Lester's semi-documentary style captures the Beatlemania of 1964 and the shear fun the Fab Four had with their quick rise to fame. In the discussion, moderated by David Novak (UCSB Professor of Music), Davis recounted his first-hand experiences during the tour, in which music and lyrics were drowned out by screams from young fans. One of those screaming/weeping girls happened to be sitting in Pollock theater's front row tonight. The music and sound quality are first-rate, so, if you have not seen the film in a theater, consider doing so at the first opportunity.

2019/01/16 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
'Time' magazine's cover photo, issue of January 21, 2019: The art of the duel 'New Yorker' cartoon of the day: 'Wow, I wonder what the losing team got' The highly over-rated actress Meryl Streep impersonates the highly over-rated dealmaker Donald Trump! (1) Trump images of the day: [Left] Time magazine's cover photo, issue of January 21, 2019: The art of the duel. [Center] New Yorker cartoon of the day: "Wow, I wonder what the losing team got." [Right] The highly over-rated actress Meryl Streep impersonates the highly over-rated dealmaker Donald Trump!
(2) One of the "Girls of Revolution Street," who stood against Iran's mandatory hijab laws by removing their headscarves in public, writes about her ordeal at Iranian stone-age courts in cases of domestic abuse and freedom of speech. A truly heartbreaking story! [Facebook post, in Persian]
(3) The liberalization of America: More people self-identify as liberal (once considered a negative term) than ever before. In a quarter of century, the fraction of Americans who support gay marriage and legalization of pot has grown from about 1/4 to 2/3.
(4) Conservatives insist that the US has the best healthcare system in the world, yet Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has chosen to undergo surgery in Canada, a country with awful, socialized, universal healthcare! Paul and others like him remind me of Iranian mullahs, who travel abroad for even routine medical care, while chanting the slogan of self-sufficiency for mere mortals.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- More than a decade after masterminding the USS Cole attack, a key Al-Qaeda operative is dead.
- The clueless, heartless, tactless, classless, amoral POTUS does it again! [Tweets]
- Newspaper censures woman's obituary that blamed Trump for contributing to her death. [From Newsweek]
- UCLA gymnast's delightful perfect-10 floor routine, channeling Tina Turner and Michael Jackson, goes viral.
(6) World Music Series noon concert: Very few people were in attendance at today's event, Klezmer and Balkan Music with Kalinka. Perhaps the rain made people think that the outdoor performance would be cancelled, whereas it was moved indoors. One of the band members joked that it felt like an academic conference, with a 1:1 ratio of panelists to audience members! [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3] [Video 4]
(7) "Perceptual Engineering": This was the title of a talk by UCSB CS faculty candidate Misha Sra this afternoon. Dr. Sra (PhD, MIT, 2018) is a Research Affiliate at MIT's Media Lab.
Our bodies interact with the physical world in rich and elaborate ways, whereas digital interactions are far more limited. Dr. Sra's Research raises computing devices from external systems that require deliberate usage to those that are true extensions of us.
In Dr. Sra's view, using the entire body for input and output allows for implicit and natural interactions. By building devices and immersive systems (such as the one for virtual scuba diving that replicates the actions and sensations of a human under water, while operating on a dry platform), Dr. Sra aims to modify a user's sense of space, place, body, balance, and orientation and manipulate his/her visual attention, so as to assist or guide the interactive experience in an effortless way and without explicit user input. [Images]
One of Dr. Sra's projects about counteracting motion sickness is described in this 11-minute TEDx talk.

2019/01/15 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Vulnerability of US entry points to terrorists infilteration A few memes about the struggles of Iranian women to regain their rights Trump treats Clemson's championship football team to food from Wendy's, McDonald's, and Burger King (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Vulnerability of US entry points to terrorists infilteration. [Center] A few memes about the struggles of Iranian women: Women's resistance to mandatory hijab laws and other manifestations of misogyny in social and judicial settings is one of the bright spots in the fight for freedom in Iran. [Right] Trump treats Clemson's championship football team to food from Wendy's, McDonald's, and Burger King: Next, he'll cut NASA's budget and send them Space-Set Lego Blocks from a local toy store's clearance section.
(2) Unlikely Iranian spies in Southern California: "Within the span of a year—from the summer of 2017 to the spring of 2018—authorities say the men crisscrossed Orange County and the United States, videotaping participants at MEK rallies in New York and Washington, D.C., and photographing Jewish centers in Chicago."
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Increasingly isolated, Trump quotes Pat Buchanan and claims most Americans support his border wall.
- Trump's "Amazon Washington Post" should be recipropcated with "Trump Organization White House."
- Rep. Steve King removed from committee posts in wake of racist and White-Supremacist comments.
- Veterans, the primary victims of higher-education scams, oppose DeVos's proposed deregulation.
- Saudi teen, who left her country to escape abuse and seek freedom, granted refugee status by Canada.
- Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, jailed in Iran since 2016, starts hunger strike in a bid to get medical attention.
- Tiny cotton plants have sprouted as a result of a biology experiment by the Chinese lunar lander.
- Hubble Space Telescope's life is expected to come to an end by the mid-2020s.
- U. California warns students/faculty against using messaging apps and social media while visiting China.
- Actress Carol Channing, of the "Hello, Dolly!" and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" fame, dead at 97.
(4) Shades of last year: Evacuation orders are in place around Santa Barbara over the expectation of several days of rain and the possibility of flash floods and mud/debris flows. They took effect at 10 AM on Tuesday 1/15 for areas below the Sherpa, Whittier, and Thomas fire burn areas.
(5) "Bridging the Spatiotemporal Neural Dynamics of Recurrent Processes in the Brain with Deep Hierarchical Convolutional Neural Network Models": This mouthful of a title belonged to a CS faculty candidate talk this afternoon at UCSB. The speaker, Dr. Yalda Mohsenzadeh, is a postdoc at MIT and received her graduate degrees from Sharif University of Technology (MS, 2009) and Amirkabir University (PhD, 2014), both in Tehran. Her work relies on a combination of EEG/MEG, which provide good temporal resolution, and fMRI, which has good spatial resolution, in an effort to arrive at mm and msec resolutions for studying brain activity. The talk consisted of three complementary parts, followed by a description of the speaker's future research plans. First, a novel method for characterizing the interplay of feedforward and feedback mechanisms along the human ventral visual stream, which suggests that recurrent artificial neural networks can better explain the neural data in challenging visual tasks, was presented. Second, Dr. Mohsenzadeh showed how some visual events are privileged by perceptual processing for potential successful memory encoding, offering a new way of characterizing the spatiotemporal neural signature of visual memorability in the human brain. Third, via a novel method to examine what an artificial deep neural network has learned, Dr. Mohsenzadeh showed how biological and artificial networks share many more similarities than previously believed. [A few slides]
(6) Film screening at UCSB's Pollock Theater: "Nadie" (a 2017 documentary, whose title means "Nobody") tells the story of love and deception in the Cuban revolution, seen through the eyes of a man who was initially mesmerized by its possibilities. Rafael Alcides, who talks for much of the film, was once a celebrated writer. Now, a stranger in his own country, a nobody, he tries to salvage his unpublished novels as the ink fades away from their pages. Miguel Coyula's film is a pop-culture collage, combining clips from old movies, photographs, and imaginary conversations, all held together by the magnetic personality of raconteur Rafael Alcides.
The film's screening was followed by a discussion with Miguel Coyola (writer/director/co-producer) and Lynn Cruz (actor/co-producer), moderated by Cristina Venegas (Film & Media Studies, UCSB). Apparently, the director and producers of the film also became nobodies, given the reverence with which Castro is viewed in Cuba and the extreme censorship of all that is critical of him.
Even though the director categorizes his film as a "documentary," much of the imagery is digitally manipulated, making it of a different genre (historical commentary?). Some examples of such manipulations were shown during the Q&A period. [Some images]

2019/01/14 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Right before disaster strikes: Bat about to hit chin Right before disaster strikes: When you gotta go Right before disaster strikes: Falling in the pool Right before disaster strikes: Cargo about to go Right before disaster strikes: Elephant's toy car Right before disaster strikes: Knocking over a vase (1) Unfortunate events: [Top left] Bat about to hit chin. [Top center] When you gotta go. [Top right] Falling in the pool. [Bottom left] Cargo about to go. [Bottom center] Elephant's toy car. [Bottom right] Museum oops!
(2) Perfect retort to the Trump tweet slamming FBI and Comey: "When you're attacking FBI agents because you're under criminal investigation, you're losing." ~ Sarah Huckabee Sanders' tweet of November 3, 2016
(3) An emerging pattern: The Saudi government may have rescued a Saudi man awaiting trial for rape in Canada. They had done this for an accused murderer in Oregon.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Death toll of massive US winter storm, from the Midwest to the mid-Atlantic, stands at 7 and rising.
- Trump's anti-FBI tweet and Comey's reply: "I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made." ~ FDR
- Racism rewarded: Megyn Kelly is out at NBC but will be given the full amount of her $69 million contract.
- Trump risks financial disaster for America, says the President of a country whose economy is in tatters!
- James Watson of the DNA double-helix fame has been stripped of his honors over racist comments.
- Highly creative Olympics ice-dancing: Tango with a Chair. [2-minute video]
- Azeri music: A wonderful performance of "Sari Galin" by a group of school children. [5-minute video]
- Trevor Noah's 8-minute stand-up comedy routine about his racial identity and racism in South Africa.
- Traditional Persian music: Mastan Ensemble performs. [4-minute video]
- Jim Carrey impersonating 12 famous people in 1992. [Photos]
- Ancient Irish "healing soil" contains bacteria that halt the growth of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
(5) Trump responds to reports of chaos in the WH by tweeting that he is home alone: Tweeter users consider this a sign of isolation, rather than reassuring.
(6) World's top 10 most-educated countries [educated fraction rounded to the nearest percent]: Canada 56, Japan 51, Israel 50, Korea 47, UK 46, USA 46, Australia 44, Finland 44, Norway 43, Luxembourg 43.

2019/01/13 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Punishment by lashing in the Islamic Republic of Iran (cartoon by Touka Neyestani) This wall at UCSB Library used to be covered with a shelf that held new books: Another casualty of the digital revolution! Cartoon: Lady Liberty replaced by Liberty Wall (1) Troubling sights: [Left] Punishment by lashing in the Islamic Republic of Iran (cartoon by Touka Neyestani). [Center] This wall at UCSB Library used to be covered with a shelf that held new books: It was my favorite spot to spend some time before or between meetings, to discover new books outside my areas of expertise. Another casualty of the digital revolution! [Right] Lady Liberty being replaced by Liberty Wall.
(2) The number 33 is very special (part of birthday message to my son, who turns 33 today): It is the product of the primes 3 and 11, thus being a semiprime. The smallest run of 3 consecutive semiprime integers begins with 33 (the next run is 85, 86, 87). Coincidentally, 11 is the binary representation of 3. It is the sum of the first four positive factorials. It is a master number, along with 11 and 22. It is the smallest odd number n such that n + x! isn't a prime for any x. It is the smallest positive integer yet to be represented as a^3+b^3+c^3. Al-Ghazali claimed that dwellers of Heaven will forever exist in a state of being 33.
(3) "Back to the Future: The Return of US Economic Sanctions and Iran's Response" [With thanks to Dr. Bavafa for sending me his slides and submitting several clarifications]:
This was the title of today's Persian lecture at UCLA's Dodd Hall, Room 121, which will repeat tomorrow in English at Bunche Hall, Room 10383, as part of the Iranian Studies Outreach Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran. The speaker, Dr. Reza Bavafa, is an adjunct professor at USC's Marshall School of Business. Dr. Bavafa teaches courses in economics and business strategy and has had 25 years of executive management experience with AT&T and IBM.
Dr. Kazem Alamdari introduced the speaker and moderated the discussion that followed the lecture, in lieu of the lecture series' coordinator, Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, who is abroad on a conference trip.
Dr. Bavafa began with a disclaimer: Given that the new Trump administration sanctions on Iran are only a tad over two months old, their effects are not yet known in full, so we must extrapolate from previous sanctions regimes, and employ economic models, to predict their effects. Another disclaimer, that Dr. Bavafa mentioned during the talk and Q&A period, is that he is not versed to speak about the political and psychological impacts of sanctions, so his focus is on economic effects and on the effectiveness of sanctions in achieving their stated goals. Many sanctions and responses to them are politically motivated in order to score points with the base at source and/or target countries. There are also psychological impacts on both sides, which are outside the scope of this talk.
Dr. Bavafa indicated that his talk covers five points: Defining economic sanctions, history of sanctions against Iran, reinstatement of sanctions in November 2018, impact of sanctions, and Iran's potential response.
US sanctions apply to "US Persons," that is, US citizens and permanent residents, no matter where they live, anyone physically present in the US, and US entities such as corporations. Secondary sanctions apply to entities with economic ties to both the US and Iran, thus potentially capable of circumventing the sanctions via indirect deals. Although there are counterexamples, generally speaking, economic sanctions have been less than successful in achieving their goals.
Considering a two-dimensional space characterized by a country's degree of dependence on imports (high or low) and it having or not having strategic exports as a crude version (that focuses only on two of the more prominent parameters) of a model used in the literature on this topic, one can distinguish four quadrants. Most vulnerable to sanctions are counties with high degrees of dependence on imports and with no strategic exports (Liberia). Countries with little dependence on imports are usually not affected by sanctions (North Korea, with no strategic exports, and China, with a great deal of exports). Iran falls in the fourth quadrant, because it is highly dependent on imports, but also has oil as a strategic export.
The case of Iran is rather puzzling. The 3-decade sanctions spanning 1979-2010, resulting from the hostage crisis, though economically devastating, had more limited effects on changing Iran's behavior than the broadly-supported and deep 2012-2015 sanctions arising from the nuclear program, which eventually brought Iran to the negotiating table and led to the JCPOA (recently overturned by the Trump administration, while still considered valid by the Europeans, China, and Russia).
The reinstated sanctions are expected to be somewhat less effective than those in 2012-2015, for a variety of reasons, including the absence of "carrot" to complement the "stick." First, Iran is allowed to sell oil to certain countries that would be greatly inconvenienced if Iran's oil were not available to them. Second, the sanctions are unilateral and not supported by US partners in the nuclear deal. Third, reduction in both the unemployment rate and of inflation, from 30% to around 10% (although the figure shot up to 35% upon declaration of the new sanctions), anti-corruption measures, and in-progress banking reforms, including control of money-laundering, may spur foreign investments.
The previous round of sanctions created problems for the country in terms of an increase in poverty levels, especially in provinces with smaller urban populations, although in terms of inequality, Iran is surprisingly in better shape than the US. The bottom line is that sanctions affected villages much more severely than cities.
Demonstrations against rampant inflation in Iranian cities are signs of trouble to come. Iran was expected to have a 4% growth this year, which was downgraded to -1.6% upon the mere announcement of the new sanctions (a reduction of 5.6%). Another 4% decrease in growth is projected for next year.
In conclusion, the reinstated US sanctions are not expected to be super-effective, thus giving Iran some flexibility in how it responds to them. The Trump administration has stated that regime change is not a goal of the reinstated sanctions. In fact, the globally unpopular sanctions may serve to strengthen the Iranian regime, as people rally around the leadership. Conservatives in both the US and Iran seem to be the main beneficiaries of the sanctions.
The Facebook version of this post also includes photos and a Persian summary. [The speaker's slides]

2019/01/12 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
World's largest neuromorphic computer, built at U. Manchester Researchers are replicating honeybee's tiny brain, containing about 1 million neurons, to improve drone navigation Tech goes to Broadway: The latest stage King Kong (1) Science and technology: [Left] World's largest neuromorphic computer: Built at U. Manchester, the $20M machine contains 1M processor cores and mimics the brain's massive parallelism. Its design concept will be scaled up in future to model up to 1B neurons. [Center] Beeline navigation: Researchers are replicating honeybee's tiny brain, containing about 1 million neurons, to improve drone navigation. (Credit: Cover of Prism magazine, issue of December 2018) [Right] Tech goes to Broadway: The latest stage King Kong is a 2000-pound, 20-foot-tall blending of art and technology, controlled by on-board hydraulics and a team of puppeteers. Despite this marvel of animatronics, the Broadway version of "King Kong" has received poor reviews.
(2) How do evangelical Christians reconcile their love and support for Israel with their belief that all Jews will go to hell unless they convert to Christianity?
(3) Persian music: This nostalgic song, entitled "Grandma's House," is recognizable by next-generation Iranians (the generation after me) as the theme song of a children's TV program.
(4) Persian music: My friend Koorosh (Kory) Yazdani sings his composition "Mi-Khaahamat" ("I Desire You"), based on a poem by another friend, Partow Nooriala. [5-minute video]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Cost to GDP of the current government shutdown will likely exceed Trump's wall funding demand. [Chart]
- Federal agencies affected by the current partial government shutdown (9 out of 15). [Chart]
- Virginia Federal Appeals Court: Politicians who block citizens on social media violate First Amendment.
- A detailed history of Donald Trump's connections to the mob, both in the US and in Russia.
- Changing our perception of beauty: Photographing women from 60 different countries. [Pictorial]
- Official Queen video of "Bohemian Rhapsody" (inspired a new movie by the same name). Its live version.
(6) Bad news: Catastrophic collisions are coming to our Milky Way galaxy. Good news: The first collision is expected in about 2 billion years. [CNN story]
(7) The Trump administration is breaking records left and right: On the heels of the longest government shutdown in history, we now have an agency head resigning before he is confirmed by Congress.
(8) Final thought for the day: Trump was essentially forced to be hostile to the press and his political opponents. With so many skeletons in his closet, he couldn't defend himself in any other way but via preemptively declaring his critics spiteful and biased.

2019/01/11 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Changes by age group in the composition of the US House in the 2018 midterm elections China's Lunar Rover exploring the far side of the moon Trump's tax plan of 1999: A one-time 14.25% net-worth tax to eliminate the national debt (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Changes by age group in the composition of the US House in the 2018 midterm elections: Significant increases in the number of Gen-Xers and Millennials. [Center] China's rover exploring the far side of the moon (More photos). [Right] Trump's tax plan of 1999: A one-time 14.25% net-worth tax to eliminate the national debt. His economic plan evolved from "soak the rich" to "screw the poor" in two decades!
(2) The US Supreme Court will not intervene in the legal battle between Special Counsel Robert Mueller and an unknown foreign corporation fighting his grand-jury subpoena.
(3) Predatory artists: We must remember that each act of support or fandom, insignificant as it may seem in the grand scheme of things, serves to enable the despicable behavior.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Fiat-Chrysler to pay $800 million to settle DoJ, EPA, and California lawsuits over false emissions readings.
- CA's commitment to getting all of its electricity from green sources by 2045 is spreading to other states.
- At least two dozen US electric utilities are believed to have been compromised by Russian hackers.
- Hurricane-stricken town in the Florida Panhandle is now dealing with "Hurricane Government Shutdown."
- American co-presidents: Donald Trump, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh. [Photos]
- Amazon's Jeff Bezos and former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez, both in the middle of divorces, are dating.
(5) Disaster relief (humor): In a stunning development, FEMA has decided to allocate funds to Trump's wall to get him off people's nerves, given that no hurricane, flood, or wildfire has caused this much trauma!
(6) It's unclear whether volunteers can clean up the mess at Southern California's Joshua Tree National Park, left because of government shutdown. But it's heart-warming that they are trying.
(7) Our very helpful government has advised fed workers without paychecks to be creative: Hold garage sales, baby-sit, walk a neighbor's dog, ...; do these people even know how much a baby-sitter or a dog-walker earns?
(8) Seeing old-time friends: Ten of my college classmates from 50+ years ago and their families got together in Tehran and were kind enough to include me in their merriment via FaceTime.
(9) Mike Pompeo's abhorrent Cairo speech: In his Middle East policy statement, he said not one word about the murderous dictators in the region but took several shots at former President Obama! [Full text]

2019/01/10 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Yesterday was the 1-year anniversary of the mudflow in Santa Barbara's Montecito area Beautiful sunset shots in Goleta, California, from January 9, 2015 Khosro Harandi, former chess champion and a staff member at Iran's Sharif University of Technology, has passed away at 68 (1) Some remembrances: [Left] Yesterday was the 1-year anniversary of the mudflow in Santa Barbara's Montecito area. The death toll was 21, with 28 others injured. Wikipedia has an article about the disaster, which was a consequence of Thomas Fire in late 2017. [Center] Beautiful sunset shots in Goleta, California, from January 9, 2015. [Right] Khosro Harandi, former Iranian chess champion and a staff member at Iran's Sharif University of Technology, has passed away at 68. RIP!
(2) Economic insecurities, exposed by the current government shutdown: In the world's richest country, 78% of workers live paycheck-to-paycheck. This makes the relatively low unemployment rate rather irrelevant.
(3) Homophobia, like racism and anti-Semitism, is rearing its ugly head under Trump: Evangelical group wants gays removed from an anti-lynching bill passed last month by the US Senate.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump plans to order FEMA to stop helping fire-ravaged California: Childish rage to punish a blue state!
- Saudi power couple, a stand-up comic and a women's-rights activist, have disappeared from the scene.
- Mass transit, in the true sense of the term: Bangladesh railway. [2-minute video]
- A capsule history of the Persian language and its influence on other languages. [2-minute video]
- The New Yorker's glowing review of the comedy "Pig," to be shown at NY's upcoming Iranian Film Festival.
- Wonderful 3D design app: Of course, nothing is as easy as it appears in demos, but I'm still impressed.
- A joke for my Persian-speaking readerss: It uses an utterly untranslatable play on words. [Tweet]
- Persian music: A wonderful rendition of the old song "Mey-Zadeh Shab." [4-minute video]
(5) Heard on the radio while driving (didn't catch the attribution): Usually, the president uses an Oval-Office address to calm a frightened public. This must be the first time a president has used it to frighten a calm public!
(6) On declaring national emergency: Having painted himself into a corner with no way to declare victory upon ending the government shutdown, Trump is increasingly likely to see a declaration of national emergency as the only way to appease his base and seem strong to his nut-job right-wing bosses in the media.
(7) Impact of government shutdown on science and technology: Researchers at federal agencies, including Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, and US Geological Survey, are banned from any form of work activity, including opening of e-mails, during the current government shutdown.

2019/01/09 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Moon landing's 50th anniversary coming up: Washington Post's front page Moon landing's 50th anniversary coming up: Ticker-tape parade in NYC Moon landing's 50th anniversary coming up: Man walking on the moon (1) Moon landing's 50th anniversary coming up: Astronauts Neil Armstrong (right), Michael Collins (Center), and Buzz Aldrin (left) received a ticker-tape parade in NYC upon returning from the moon in July 1969.
(2) Will Iran start a preemptive war? Rather likely, considering this statement from the Revolutionary Guards Corps Commander: "Until now the strategy of the Islamic Republic has been defensive. But it seems that from now on we must be ready to take the offensive and go after the enemy."
(3) Iranian journalist lashed in public: Poet, satirist, and Telegram-channel administrator Mohammad-Hossein Sodagar received 74 lashes after his conviction for "disseminating false information."
(4) After years of denial/hedging, Iran publicly admits to having conducted regular talks with the Taliban: Can you guess which of these two men in this photo (credit: Iranwire) is the Taliban representative?
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- According to Andy Borowitz (humorist), Trump's speech on border security is simulcast in English!
- Democrats demand equal time if TV networks devoted time to Trump's prime-time address of yesterday.
- The best news analyses now occur on comedy shows: Seth Meyers' "A Closer Look" feature, in particular.
- No collusion? Paul Manafort fed campaign information to Russian with intelligence ties.
- Singer R. Kelly will likely be the next giant of the entertainment industry to fall due to sexual misconduct.
- On being radical: It is giving bigger tax breaks to the rich that's radical; taxing them more is mainstream!
- US academic institutions are being drained of AI talent by the lure of projects at tech giants.
- The Dunning-Kruger effect (psychology): Educational Facebook post from January 8, 2018.
- Bumper sticker, spotted in Goleta yesterday: "Science Is Not A Conspiracy" [Photo]
- Asian Cup: Iran's national soccer team beat Yemen 5-0. Hoping it does just as well against stronger teams.
(6) Trump administration's lies continue, getting bolder by the day: Six terrorist arrests at the Mexico border is inflated to 4000. That's a factor of ~17 higher than the Iranian saying "counting one crow as 40 crows"!
(7) Trump lies himself and forces others to lie to cover for him: Both Mike Pence and Sarah Huckabee Sanders backed up Trump's lie that 4000 terrorists had been apprehended at our southern border.
(8) Will the wave of new women representatives bring changes to sexual harassment laws? Perhaps not directly, in terms of the effect of additional votes, but certainly indirectly, as a result of men talking and acting differently in the presence of women (e.g., no locker-room talk, where multiple women are present).

2019/01/08 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of Andrew Lloyd Webber's memoir 'Unmasked' World's most-beautiful bookshop, located in Buenos Aires, Argentina Cover image of Sally Field's dark memoir 'In Pieces' (1) Reviewing two memoirs from the world of entertainment (see items 2 and 3 below) and sharing a photo of the world's most-beautiful bookshop (a converted old opera house), located in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
(2) Book review: Lloyd Webber, Andrew, Unmasked: A Memoir, unabridged audiobook on 13 CDs, read by the author and Derek Perkins, Harper Audio, 2018. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
In this memoir, Lloyd Webber [b. 1948], composer of some of the most successful musical theaters of all time (such as "The Phantom of the Opera," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Cats," and "Evita"), elaborates on his 5-decade reign over the musical theater world, his creative process, and collaboration with luminaries such as Tim Rice.
Lloyd Webber is by far the most commercially successful composer in history and his company is a major theater operator in London. He is one of only 15 people in the world to have received all four major entertainment honors (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). Let me stop listing the glories at this point and refer you to the Wikipedia article on Lloyd Webber for a complete list of his awards, honors, and professional achievements.
A large number of world-famous celebrities make cameo appearances in the audiobook, which is really the first half of his life's story, ending with the opening performance of "The Phantom of the Opera" in 1986, a show that is still running after more than three decades. Critics of Unmasked have faulted Lloyd Webber for his verbosity and for not pacing his presentation. The length of the book is in part due to including a lot of backstage or making-of details for each of his productions.
Lloyd Webber has a reputation for being a difficult person, but he also has many admirers and defenders. This dichotomy extends to assessing the quality of his music, some praising his melodic gift and success in bridging Broadway and opera, and others characterizing his music as repetitive and overbearing. I am definitely in the first group!
(3) Book review: Field, Sally, In Pieces, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Hachette Audio, 2018. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Telling her story for the first time, in her own words and voice, Field, the winner of two Oscars and three Emmy Awards over a long, continuing acting career, writes primarily about a challenging and lonely childhood. The sad, frightened face of a young Sally Field on the cover reflects the book's tone.
Field was apprehensive about telling her life story, being unsure of whether she wanted to share certain events and of her writing chops. Known affectionately as America's Sweetheart, Field reveals aspects of her personality that are anything but sweet. She suffered through self-doubt (for example, she deemed herself not pretty enough for leading roles), even as she carved a successful acting career for herself. Throughout her life, Field has been angry and seemingly incapable of forming relationships, even with her spaced-out mother, until much later in life.
Perhaps, the most significant revelation in the book is Field's long-term sexual abuse as a young girl by her stepfather. The abusive stepfather told a contrived version of his deeds (essentially claiming that it was a one-time thing caused by drunkenness) to Field's mother, and begged for forgiveness. Field told her mother much later that the abuse had gone on for years. The weight of being almost completely ignored as a child may have made Field susceptible to her stepfather's advances. When Field's relationship with her mother improved and they had open talks, the mother asked why she had not been told about the long-term abuse. Field offers an enlightening explanation: Because she was only a child and had no idea how other children lived and whether her stepfather's actions were a normal part of everyone's childhood.
Much of what Field writes in this book, including the sexual abuse and a secret abortion in Mexico at age 17, is news to her three grown sons, from two marriages, and to her siblings. To the people around her and the world at large, Field seemed as totally in control and enjoying her life and career. Maybe the happiest-looking people are hiding the most angst! In Field's case, the craft of acting seems to have been what saved her from consequences of the type of childhood that drowns many people.
Field writes about her relationships with actor Burt Reynolds and singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb, as well as her marriages to Steven Craig and Alan Greisman. Reynolds, in particular, emerges as petty, angry, envious, manipulative, and controlling. Some have criticized Field for bad-mouthing Burt Reynolds (who is dead) and Jimmy Webb (who recalls their love affair differently and claims that he left Field out of his own memoir because he respected her and didn't want her to be hurt). The other side of the coin is that nearly all men who abuse or otherwise hurt women deny the allegations.
Field writes in detail about her acting gigs, including in TV shows such as "Gidget," "Sybil," "The Flying Nun," and "Brothers and Sisters," and film roles in "Norma Rae," "Steel Magnolias," "Smokey and the Bandit," "Mrs. Doubtfire," and Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," to name a few. Even Field herself did not believe that she deserved all the critical acclaim and the awards, and those around her, particularly Reynolds, tended to dismiss her achievements.
Field is taking flack for writing a sob story, portraying quite a few individuals negatively, and not being grateful for her successes. Women, by and large, have received the book warmly and are thankful for Field's courage and contribution to advancing the #MeToo movement.
Field's writing is splendid, but her tone is at times too negative. Perhaps writing this book was her way of dealing with her past and putting to rest her personal demons. As a reader/listener, I felt that Field did not share enough of her fortunes and happy life events and too much of her miseries. In fairness, though, writing a memoir is a highly personal undertaking and one should cut the writer some slack. This ultra-sad book may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you are a Sally Field fan, it is a must for you.

2019/01/07 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mouthwatering selections of Iranian cuisine from Internet sources: Photo 1 Mouthwatering selections of Iranian cuisine from Internet sources: Photo 2 Mouthwatering selections of Iranian cuisine from Internet sources: Photo 3 Mouthwatering selections of Iranian cuisine from Internet sources: Photo 4 Mouthwatering selections of Iranian cuisine from Internet sources: Photo 5 Mouthwatering selections of Iranian cuisine from Internet sources: Photo 6 (1) Continuing with the Iran theme today: Mouthwatering selections of Iranian cuisine from Internet sources.
(2) Good news amid political turmoil: The US Senate has confirmed Kelvin Droegemeier, a respected extreme-weather expert, as the White House's top science and technology adviser.
(3) UK's Government Communications Headquarters has created a competition for 12- and 13-year-old girls, aimed at drawing more women into cybersecurity-related professions.
(4) Ayatollah Yazdi claims that Iran has made 400 years' worth of progress in the last 40 years: Given that all of our presidents are now deemed deviant and traitorous, could you please specify when this immense progress was made? [Question asked in this Persian-language tweet]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump firm on border wall, offers steel option as compromise: If this doesn't work, he'll go to china option!
- Memes of the day: On Trump's wall, government shutdown, women's rights, and authoritarianism. [Memes]
- Golden Globes 2019: Here is CNN's complete list of the winners, organized by categories.
- CBS News taps producer Susan Zirinsky as its first-ever female president.
- Periodic table turns 150: Its genius aided understanding and facilitated discovery of many new elements.
- For history buffs: Thousands of Ottoman-Era photographs have been digitized and made available on-line.
- Twitter user encourages Iranians to take to the streets with their musical instruments to beautify cities.
(6) If building a border wall, which was Trump's promise and priority form Day 1, is such an emergency, why wasn't it funded over the past two years by the Republican House and Senate?
(7) All four living ex-presidents deny they privately told Trump that they support his border wall: Gee, I don't know whether to believe the real-estate developer with multiple bankruptcies in his past, concealed tax returns, thousands of documented/cataloged lies in two years of presidency, and multiple ongoing criminal investigations, or four former presidents who are gaining more respect with the passing of each day!

2019/01/06 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Historical photos of Iran's cities: Isfahan's 33-Pol Historical photos of Iran's cities: Mashhad Historical photos of Iran's cities: Tehran's Fouzieh Square (1) Historical photos of Iran: [Left] Isfahan's 33-Pol. [Center] Mashhad. [Right] Tehran's Fouzieh Square.
(2) Quote of the day: "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic." ~ President John F. Kennedy
(3) The lies are getting bolder and more bizarre: Trump claims that certain former presidents support his idea of a wall! Not even his closest staffer, Mick Mulvany, can back up his claim.
(4) Saudi women, rejoice! Now, when your husband divorces you, you'll get a text message notifying you of your new status. Aren't you thankful for Crown Prince MBS's reforms?
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- If this madness doesn't stop soon, we'll have to worry about immigration out of the US, not into it!
- The alt-reality of Fox News: Trump not sticking to his guns on border wall will leave the GOP demoralized.
- President foul-mouth finds his words, when spoken by someone else, dishonorable and disrespectful.
- Meme of the day: All of a sudden Republicans are sensitive to the use of crass language! [Meme]
- To share or not to share: That is the question! [3-minute video]
- Turkish music: Based on a traditional Iranian folk song. [3-minute video]
- My Saturday walk on Coal Oil Point Beach in Goleta, during last couple of dry hours before 2 days of rain.
(6) Persian poetry: Mostafa Badkoobei is known for his fiery, patriotic poems. In this video, he recites one of his better-known poems, admonishing the country's rulers for abandoning Iranian history and values in favor of a pan-Islamic view that favors Lebanon and Palestine, to the detriment of our fellow countrymen.
(7) Quantum error-correcting codes (QECCs): ECCs are used as a matter of course to protect digital data from corruption. If a 0 accidentally changes to 1 due to a physical defect or logical fault, use of an ECC allows us to restore the bit to its correct value and continue our computation undisturbed. Quantum bits are much more fragile than ordinary bits, so they need ECCs even more, if we are to build reliable quantum computers. Now, in a stunning development, scientists have concluded that the robustness of spacetime may come from some sort of QECC. This development may pave the way for further advances in both quantum computing and quantum gravity research.
(8) Final thought for the day: Government shutdown does not just affect the 800,000 unpaid federal workers. Many millions are impacted by lack of access to National Parks, laxer security and longer lines at airports, and delayed tax processing and refunds, to name just a few.

2019/01/04 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Historical photos of Iran's old-time music celebrities: Marzieh, Morteza Mahjoubi, Adib Khansari Historical photos of Iran's old-time music celebrities: Toofan, Neli, Sattar, Naser Cheshm-Azar Historical photos of Iran's old-time music celebrities: Pouran, Viguen, Googoosh (1) Historical photos of Iran's old-time music celebrities (named from left to right): [Left] Marzieh, Morteza Mahjoubi, Adib Khansari. [Center] Toofan, Neli, Sattar, Naser Cheshm-Azar. [Right] Pouran, Viguen, Googoosh.
(2) Yes, this is just what our country needs right now: A president who is doing Russia's bidding and a Senate that thinks it is serving Trump, not America! The Congress must express its independent opinion.
(3) Where Trump get his bizarre conspiracy theories: Watch this insightful analysis by Rachel Maddow to find out. "Several of Trump's foreign policy talking points since taking office have appeared to directly parrot propaganda and fake news originally put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin's government."
(4) The US ayatollahs mimic their Iranian counterparts in criticizing Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for having danced on a rooftop in college. But they are okay with a private-parts-grabbing president!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Beautiful flowers to brighten your Friday amid grim economic and government-shutdown reports. [Photos]
- CBS's "60 Minutes" to air interview with President Sisi, over strong objection from Egypt's government.
- Larry Roberts, who as a manager at ARPA oversaw the development of Internet's first iteration, dead at 81.
- Seven dead in fiery multi-vehicle Florida crash, including 5 children who were headed to Disney World.
- The Pridrangaviti Lighthouse is precariously perched on a rock pillar in Iceland's Westman Islands. [Photo]
- UCLA Bilingual Lectures on Iran: Sun. 1/13 (4:00 PM, Dodd 121) and Mon. 1/14 (2:00 PM, Bunche 10838).
(6) Iranian female chess player Sarasadat Khademalsharieh emerges as the overall champion in blitz and lightning chess. Here is the YouTube video of one of her matches.
(7) A new balance of power in Washington: It used to be Donald Trump and his stooge Mitch McConnell, with Paul Ryan largely absent from the scene in recent months. Now, it's Trump and Nancy Pelosi, with McConnell gone into hiding, and Trump is clearly unhappy to cede one-half of the spotlight. [Photos]
(8) Dr. Jedidah Isler: A black woman who pursued a PhD in astrophysics and now wants to help colored people like her overcome obstacles en route to their STEM passions. [Part of NPR's "Brief but Spectacular" series]
(9) [Final thought for the day] Manifesto for a simple life: Eat less, move more. Buy less, make more. Stress less, laugh more. Feel blessed, love more. Find a quiet spot every day and just breathe.

2019/01/03 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Map of Isla Vista and UCSB, including Main and West Campus areas (1) Map of UCSB and Isla Vista: I took this photo of a map at the University Center. The main campus is on the right, and Harold Frank Hall (the former Engineering I Building), where the ECE Department and my office are located, is near the right/east edge of the campus. Isla Vista, with its street network, is center-left on the map. UCSB West Campus, on the left/west of the map, holds the Faculty Housing complex, where my home is located. My walking path to the campus goes roughly across the center of the map, about 1 mile within Isla Vista and 1 mile inside the campus. The map is a few years old, so it doesn't show some of the latest additions to the campus, including new student housing along El Colegio and on both sides of Storke Road. The former Devereux School on the left edge of the map is now part of UCSB, as is the area known as North Campus (a former golf course and its surrounding land), located to the north of West Campus, along Storke Road. The map inset shows the relationship of the campus to US 101, Highway 217, and Santa Barbara Airport.
(2) The far side of the moon has never been examined up close: That will change with the announced soft-landing of the Chinese spacecraft Chang'e 4, which has begun transmitting photos.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- No, Donald, you wouldn't make a good general if you were judged medically unfit to serve in the military.
- Trump disses Mitt Romney for losing in 2012, and hears about it from the husband of an ardent supporter.
- Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinkes handwritten resignation note ridiculed. [Tweet]
- US stocks slide again, as Apple shares falter: At closing, DJIA was 660 points down.
- Islamic Iran: Isn't it sad that this talented girl has to dance on the street because of lack of opportunities?
- The rock band Metallica donates $1 million to 10 cummunity colleges for trade skill education.
- The Women's March is coming on Sat. 1/19: Santa Barbara's De La Guerra Plaza, beginning at 11:30 AM.
- A few puzzles, from the January-February 2019 issue of IEEE Potentials. [Image]
- Iranian music: A beautiful Azeri love song, performed by old-time singers Aref and Yaghoub Zoroofchi.
(4) Iran's Minister of Communications: "Today, we announce that in the infrastructure for our National Information Network, no American product will be used." [Good for you, sir, but your statement would have been a lot more believable without that McBook in front of you!] [Image]

2019/01/02 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Late-afternoon walk on January 1, 2019: Photo 1 Late-afternoon walk on January 1, 2019: Photo 2 Late-afternoon walk on January 1, 2019: Photo 3 (1) During yesterday's late-afternoon walk, I snapped photos of the very colorful sunset and what might be a missile launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base to the north. A blue patch of the ocean is visible in one photo.
(2) NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flies by the most-distant known object in the Solar System, some 4 billion miles away, and sends back images to Earth, the planet it left 12 years ago.
(3) What an amazing year for women! Yes, there were some setbacks, but the courage shown by women will bear fruit for many years to come. #TimesUp #MeToo [Tweet]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Tonight is Perihelion: Celebrate, and go find an astrophysicist on the street to dance with! [Tweet]
- The US government shutdown begins to impact scientific research in labs and field sites across the world.
- US National Parks suffer from government shutdown, as visitors turn roads into dumps and toilets.
- Science could have seen far greater progress if it had not dismissed women as intellectually inferior.
- Kurdish and Persian music: Samples of performances by Sheno Ensemble. [5-minute video]
- Fondly remembering our former First Couple and their humanity, 2 years after they left the White House.
- Interesting shots taken on a deserted UCSB campus, whose winter 2019 classes will start on Monday 1/07.
- Persian music: Performed at a soccer match (pre-game or half-time) in Tajikistan. [4-minute video]
- Persian music: Beautiful rhythmic piece, performed masterfully on piano/violin/tonbak. [6-minute video]
- Persian music: A spiritual piece, featuring a poem by Mowlavi (Rumi). [3-minute video] [Poem/Lyrics]
(5) Taking credit and blame: The markets have tanked, so Trump doesn't say a word about them. But gas prices have come down, so Trump immediately takes credit. According to GasBuddy, "2019 sets the stage for the first decline in the yearly national average since 2015, but before motorists drive for joy, it may be prudent to remind them that 2019 will still be the second most expensive year to fill up since then."
(6) Mitt Romney, the flip-flopper: First he stood next to Trump at the Trump Hotel and thanked him for his support. Then, he called Trump a con man and much worse during the 2016 campaign. Next, he had an intimate dinner with Trump as a short-list candidate for the job of Secretary of State. When he wasn't chosen, he began criticizing Trump again. Later, he accepted Trump's support gratefully, as he began to run for a Senate seat from Utah. Most recently, he wrote an op ed against Trump a couple of days before beginning his service as a Senator. Which Mitt Romney will show up at the Senate?
(7) What First Amendment? Netflix removes episode of "Patriot Act with Hasan Mihaj" from its service in Saudi Arabia after the Saudis objected to the comedian's comments about the country and MBS in connection with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

2019/01/01 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A very happy new year to everyone! My drawing from memory of my family's residence and its environs, 1952-1955 Welcome to 2019! Best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous 2019 (1) Reigning in the new year: [Left & Right] A very happy new year to everyone! Best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous 2019. An impressive calligraphic rendering of "Happy New Year." [Center] My drawing from memory of my family's 1950s residence and its environs near Tabriz railway station (see item 2 below).
(2) Some memories from about 65 years ago: My family (dad, mom, and sister Behnaz) lived in Tabriz, Iran, for about 3 years (1952-1955). My father worked as an engineer with the National Railroad Organization and, after a couple of years in Bandar Shah on the Caspian shore and a short stint in Tehran, was reassigned to Tabriz. In those days, the Tehran-Tabriz train track had not yet been completed, so we took the train (which was of course complimentary for us) to Mianeh and rode a bus from Mianeh to Tabriz.
The railway station and the Russian-standard track that led from it to the northern border town of Julfa were leftover relics from the Russian occupation of the 1910s. We lived very close to the majestic railway station, in a government-owned house, with a nice yard in front of it. There were other houses around us, a dirt soccer field nearby, and an elementary school just beyond the field (see the diagram I have drawn from memory).
I was 5.5 years old when I started first grade and attended that school until third grade. The school principal was reluctant to admit me at first, given my age, but agreed to give me a chance after administering a test. I walked to school through the soccer field daily, at times stopping to watch the youth playing or practicing there. On occasion, I spent time at the fruit and vegetables patch across the road from my school (bearing mostly melons, tomatoes, zucchini, and other vegis) and among the dry, dusty olive trees.
This is pretty much the extent of my recollection from those years. The memories were rekindled when, recently, I engaged in a conversation with a college buddy about Tabriz, its railway station, and routes served by trains. I have also dug up some images from Wikipedia and elsewhere for inclusion in this post.
Note 1: This old image shows the arrival of the first Russian train in Tabriz, with the ceremony attended by Crown Prince Mohammad Hassan Mirza, local authorities, Russian officers, and railway workers.
Note 2: Tabriz's century-old train station was inscribed on National Heritage List, thanks to its place in Iran's railroad history.
Note 3: "The Proposed Connection of the Russian and Indian Railway Systems" (1917 article, published in Geographical Review).
Note 4: The July 27, 1917, issue of Railway Age Gazette indicates that the Tabriz-Julfa railway, with its branch from Sofian to Sharafkhaneh on Lake Urumiah, was completed mid-1917.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump's year-end melt-down on 12/31/2018 led to a collection of confusing and contradictory tweets.
- I achieved the goal of emptying my e-mail in-box before the end of 2018, with more than an hour to spare!
- I am fascinated with numbers and their attributes: Sad to report that the number 2019 is very unspecial!
- Some prediction for 2019: Trump will go, and other cases of wishful thinking!
- One year after their announcements, US and Israel formally quit UNESCO, citing its anti-Israel bias.
- This is the 10-foot wall around the Obamas' compound in DC, according to Trump's very active imagination.
- The three women at the top of this image have made social-media posts about Michelle Obama being ugly!
(4) Today is Public Domain Day: Tens of thousands of published works have been released from their copyright shackles. "These works dating from 1923 were supposed to become part of the public domain in 1998 (after the statutory 75 years), but in that year, Disney and other powerful copyright holders successfully lobbied Congress to extend copyright restrictions another 20 years. This way, Disney postponed the lapse of copyright on its biggest icon, Mickey Mouse."
(5) New authoritarians are waging war on women: The common denominator among the anti-democratic movements across the globe is hostility toward women and a longing to reverse decades of feminist gains.

Blog Entries for 2018

2018 bonus year-end posts: A way of clearing my backlog of posts before entering the new year 2019.
Holiday decorations at my home-office (1) A year-end wish: As we end 2018 and look past the gloom and doom predictions to 2019, may your final day of this year be filled with peace and joy, and may the new year bring you much hope, health, happiness, and success.
(2) Humorous Persian poem: The anonymous poet makes fun of the fact that amid major sociopolitical problems and rampant corruption, a customs official insulting a parliament member is being treated as a most-important crisis.
(3) Erasing women: VR fashion show goes to Iran, albeit with severe limitations on the virtual models and their clothing. Is this progress or caving in to patriarchal views?
(4) Quote of the day: "We all, everyone in uniform, we took an oath; we took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution. And embedded within that Constitution is an idea, and it's an idea that says you and I, no matter whether you're male or female, gay or straight or anything else, whether you're black or you're white or whether you're Protestant or you're Catholic or you're Jew or you're Muslim or you don't believe at all, it doesn't matter if you're rich or poor or famous—it doesn't matter. None of that matters." ~ Army General Mark Milley, who awaits Senate confirmation as the new Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump's easy ride is coming to an end in 2019: And he's not thrilled that a woman will make his ride bumpy.
- The murky Washington 'Swamp' remains undrained, as we head into 2019.
- Fake porn: An unfortunate new way to use technology for harassing women. [#TimesUp]
- The Azeri song "Sari Galin," performed on udu hang instrument. [1-minute video]
- Regional folk music from Iran: This popular oldie is from the Caspian-region province of Guilan.
- Persian music: The song "Beh Sooy-e To" ("Toward You"), accompanied by scenes from Tehran of Yore.
(6) A rape victim's story: I apologize for bringing up this grim subject during the festive holiday season, but having encountered a year-old story on my Twitter feed a couple of days ago, I thought I should share it. It isn't an exaggeration to say that our society's rape culture will not change until men learn to see the problem from a woman's perspective. So, my post is aimed primarily at my male readers, but women too may learn something from it. Here is the article's concluding paragraph: "There is a growing dialogue in America about the prevalence of sexual violence—just look at the #metoo movement. But we haven't discussed the complicated impact of sexual violence on individuals in a widespread, meaningful conversation. It's time to start having those conversations."
(7) Why do engineers often wear short sleeves? According to Henry Petroski, writing in the December 2018 issue of ASEE Prism, "In the days of hand drawings, engineers took to wearing short-sleeve shirts because long sleeves and cuffs would have been blackened by graphite dust." Hence, "casual Friday" every day!
(8) "Promoting Common Sense, Reality, Dependable Engineering": This is the title given by Communications of the ACM (Vol. 61, No. 12, pp. 128-127, December 2018) to an interview with Peter G. Neumann, the long-serving guru of the risks to the public of poorly designed computer systems. I use items from "Risks Forum", which he moderates, in my graduate course on fault-tolerant computing and highly recommend the interview and his Forum to anyone who is worried about the risks of computer systems.
(9) Trump stands up for Saudi Arabian values: This is the title of a scathing New York Times editorial from November 20, 2018, which critizes Trump for not even paying lip service to freedom of the press after the abhorrent murder of Jamal Khashoggi by a hit squad sent to Turkey by the Saudi regime.

2018/12/31 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Oregon's monster mushroom: The world's largest living organism is 2400 years old Humorous Persian poem by B. Parhami, entitled 'Whatever Previously Existed in Iran Should Go' Can we retire the term 'the weaker sex' already? (1) Miscellaneous images: [Left] Oregon's monster mushroom: The world's largest living organism is 2400 years old. (The mushroom photo is fake and the enourmous fungus, which is real and covers several square miles, lives under the ground. Pretty good idea for a tourist monument on the site, though!) [Center] My humorous Persian poem (see item 2 below). [Right] Can we retire the term "the weaker sex" already?
(2) A humorous Persian poem: I had kept this poem of mine, composed a few months after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and titled "Whatever Previously Existed in Iran Should Go," under wraps until now (see the middle image above). It is written from the vantage point of Khomeini, who was opposed to many symbols of Iran's 1970s culture and wanted them gone. Make sure to read the final rhyming word of each verse as "Berah," the way Khomeini would have pronounced it. Enjoy! The poem's image is from a page of my diary/calendar for 1980 (1358 in Iranian calendar), which I rediscovered a week or so ago. There are other poems and notes in that calendar, which I will share over time. Here is a 2-minute video in which I recite the 4-decade-old poem.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Jim Mattis sends farewell letter to Department of Defense personnel on his last day as Secretary of Defense.
- Mitch McConnell has gone into total hiding, despite his central role in the ongoing government shutdown.
- Peter King praises ICE for having only two kids die in custody, and hears about it from Chelsea Clinton.
- Several US newspapers victimized by what they suspect to be a foreign malware attack.
- Teen boy, 16, is set to graduate from a Kansas high school and, days later, from Harvard University.
- Not for the faint-hearted: Aerial videos of mind-numbing places and some daring photographers.
- On mergers: "Soon there'll be only 2 US companies left, AppleZon and GoldmanGoogleMart." ~ Bill Maher
- Fusion music: "Jingle Bells," Persian style [1-minute video], and belly/dance tango [3-minute video].
(4) Holiday mystery: A hush-hush case relating to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has reached the US Supreme Court and is getting personal attention from Chief Justice John Roberts. "The dry issues involved matters of jurisdiction and statutory interpretation fathomed only by elite appellate lawyers, but the potentially juicier underlying issues hinted of fascination: somewhere, a corporation (a bank? a communications firm? an energy company?) owned by a foreign state (Russia? Turkey? Ukraine? United Arab Emirates? Saudi Arabia?) had engaged in transactions that had an impact in the United States and on matters involved in the special counsel's investigation."
(5) In an interview everyone knew would be coming, John Kelly says he should be judged not by what Trump did but by what didn't get done during his tenure as Chief of Staff.
(6) Trump lies again about the FBI deleting 19,000 text messages: He apparently did not read or wasn't briefed on a report from his own administration that the messages were temporarily lost to a technical glitch and that they have since been fully recovered.
(7) Today in history: US President Carter lauds the Shah and characterizes Iran as "an island of stability" 41 years ago today, a little over one year before the Islamic Revolution.
(8) When there is incontrovertible evidence in support of a hypothesis, you shouldn't treat it as a "both sides" issue: There is no credible "other side" for the hypothesis that the Earth is round. Kudos to NBC for finally deciding not to give equal time to climate-change deniers.

2018/12/30 (Sunday): Today's blog post contains a book introduction and two brief book reviews.
Cover image for the book 'The Data Center as a Computer' Cover image for Stuart Gibbs' 'Spy School' Cover image for Reese Witherspoon's 'Whiskey in a Teacup' (1) Book introduction: Parallel processing has entered the age of warehouse-scale machines, where the computer is a large collection of servers, connected by a data-center network. This book, authored by three Google researchers as part of the series "Synthesis Lectures in Computer Architecture," explains the concepts in its 2019 third edition. The 2013 second edition is available on-line.
[Citation: Barroso, Luiz Andre, Urs Holzle, and Parthasarathy Ranganathan, The Data Center as a Computer: Designing Warehouse-Scale Machines, Morgan & Caypool, 3rd ed., 2019.]
(2) Book review: Gibbs, Stuart, Spy School, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Gibson Frazier, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2017. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
In this first book of the "Spy School" series, seemingly targeted at pre-teens, Gibbs introduces us to Ben Ripley, an awkward, nerdy middle-school boy who is recruited for a prestigious science school, which turns out to be a front for a junior CIA academy. He sees this lucky turn of events as a cure-all for his perceived lack of coolness and inattention from his beautiful crush. Ben isn't really the James Bond type, but he tries his best to become an undercover agent, and does perform as a halfway-decent spy through a series of misadventures. A fun story, which is surprisingly well-conceived and nicely written, given its target audience.
(3) Book review: Witherspoon, Reese, Whiskey in a Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me About Life, Love & Baking Biscuits, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2018.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Early on, Witherspoon, CEO of a company that produces films and TV shows with strong female leads, tells us that "whiskey in a teacup" is a metaphor for southern women: Delicate and pretty on the outside, strong on the inside. The audiobook, which is rather short to begin with, is light on life events and rich on lifestyle, and it comes with a PDF file containing recipes, among other symbols of the South. Witherspoon is proud of her Southern heritage and enjoys playing in films about the South, where she can use her natural accent.
Witherspoon's bubbly personality shows, both in the writing and in the reading of her work. She fawns over Dolly Parton ("the ultimate Southern icon"), Kate Middleton, and Patsy Cline. She writes at length about the beauty of Southern female friendships and the importance of beauty-shop politics, party-hosting, baking, feeding and entertaining guests, and gift-giving (she prefers cakes over flowers, because they are more practical and don't go to waste).
Witherspoon is a big fan of monograms and has many tips on properly dressing for various occasions (never go on a plane in sweatpants), make-up (she went to a beauty school), and acting (watch "Steel Magnolias").
This is no literary memoir, but it's a fun read/listen, particularly for fans of the Oscar-winning actress.

2018/12/29 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mini-reunion of class-of-1968 EE/ME graduates of Tehran University's Faculty of Engineering (1) Mini-reunion of class-of-1968 EE/ME graduates of Tehran University's Faculty of Engineering: On Thursday night, I saw three college buddies (Faramarz Davarian, Javad Peyrovian, Yousef Salimpour, right to left with me in the photo), their spouses, and a couple of other family members. Yousef is visiting from France and Faramarz generously hosted the dinner gathering. A memorable night indeed! [Three of these four classmates (all but Javad) had also been present at a much larger 50th-anniversary reunion in Yerevan, Armenia, this past July.]
(2) Quote of the day: "The president boasting about the dangers he'd faced, and [John] Bolton was a brave man to go with him. God, he's talking to special operations soldiers in Iraq, it's sort of embarrassing." ~ Retired General Barry McCaffrey, criticizing Trump's politicized, dishonest, and boastful visit to the US troops in Iraq [Newsweek story]
(3) Image manipulation: The same technology that gives us better entertainment can be used in the service of spreading disinformation. Here's the process of creating a video of anyone saying/doing anything we want.
(4) Toddler-in-Chief vents: Trump continues to attack NAFTA (which has already been replaced by his USMCA) and threatens to completely close the US border with Mexico if Democrats do not agree to fund his wall.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Political brawls and revelations about illegal activities by those around Trump will extend into 2019.
- Saudi student awaiting trial for murder in Oregon flees the US on a private jet, despite having no passport.
- Two super-rich Saudi families become citizens of Malta by purchasing 62 of the EU member's passports.
- Fire-ravaged Brazil National Museum lives on through Google, which is helping via a virtual exhibition.
- New proof of a 25-year-old claim that quantum computers are way more powerful than classical devices.
- A tantalizing question: Is the Church-Turing Thesis the logical limit or a breachable barrier? [CACM article]
- A beautiful Azeri dance: Quite complicated and physically challenging! [1-minute video]
- Topical images for the season: Migrants ahead; Weight-gain saving time; Winter (in Norway); Resolutions.
(6) How a slime-mold amoeba found an entirely new way of solving the challenging "traveling salesperson" problem: Even though the amoeba used by Keio University researchers is extremely slow in its solution method, as the problem size increases, its processing time grows only linearly, not exponentially, which is the case for conventional algorithms. [Video]
(7) The ongoing debate on the (in)compatibility of science and religion: This is a vast area of disagreement and conflicting opinions. Lately, arguments that science and religion are not only compatible, but they can actually help each other have proliferated. In this article, biologist Jerry Coyne argues that "accomodationism" is misguided and that science and religion constitute incompatible ways of viewing the world.

2018/12/28 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine's 1968 Persons of the Year (Apollo 8 moon-orbiting astronauts, famous for their Earthrise photo, from left, Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman), reunite after 50 years (1) Time magazine's 1968 Persons of the Year (Apollo 8 moon-orbiting astronauts, famous for their Earthrise photo, from left, Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman), reunite after 50 years.
(2) The year when scams proliferated is coming to an end: What have we learned? The story in this article begins with a con artist, a young black woman, who collected lots of money through GoFundMe to make a political statement (she has since returned the contributions).
(3) Some pricing algorithms may be illegal: Examining the potential and consequences of using algorithm-based pricing. [Communications of the ACM Law and Technology column, January 2019]
(4) T-shirt for young Iranians, who are tired of family members and acquaintances asking them about their GPA, when they'll get married, how much they earn, and other very private questions! [Photo]
(5) New mercenary jobs: If certain 0.1-percenters close to the Trump administration have their way, not only the postal service, universities, prisons, and healthcare but also waging of wars will be fully privatized.
(6) Soldier-less wars of the future: Fighting wars with robots may appear to be a positive development, but further reflection reveals at least two problems. First, casualties suffered by invading forces is one of the major deterrents of starting new wars, particularly in the case of the US and other industrialized countries. Second, civilian casualties will not be eliminated, and may in fact increase, because robotic-army leaders will be highly incentivized to kill anyone coming near an expensive robot which contains classified equipment and technology. [Cover image, E&T magazine, issue of December 2018 and January 2019]
(7) STEM education in Canada and California: By offering free 2-day workshops to introduce young girls to programming, the Canadian nonprofit Hackergal aims to influence female students' selection of CS as a high-school elective or career. California Education Learning Lab, established in 2018 by Assembly Bill 1809, is a competitive grant-making program for faculty teams to incorporate science and adaptive learning technology into curricula and pedagogy, so as to improve learning outcomes and close equity and achievement gaps. Here is an introduction to the Lab by its Director, Lark Park, and here is its RFP #1, 2018-2019.
(8) The enigma of street musicians in Iran: Certain kinds of music is disallowed, singing by women is prohibited, performances require government permits. Yet, Iranians are defiant in entertaining with music and supporting street performers. The happy part is the impact of beautiful music on people's dispositions, as they go about their daily lives. The sad part is such talented individuals having to take risks to make ends meet. I am in awe of the talent and the determination to preserve Iran's musical heritage in the face of shortsighted rulers who want to wipe smiles off people's faces. [Sample street music]
(9) Working hard to accomplish the goal of an empty e-mail in-box by New Year's Eve: It is down to 5 items!

2018/12/27 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Trump cartoons for the holidays: 1 of 3 Trump cartoons for the holidays: 2 of 3 Trump cartoons for the holidays: 3 of 3 (1) Trump cartoons: A three-pack for the holidays! [A fourth, bonus, cartoon is included in this package.]
(2) The Liar-in-Chief lies even to the troops: He brags about giving them a 10% pay raise, after years of stagnant wages. The troops in fact got a pay raise in each of the last 10 years. The 2019 pay raise will be 2.6%, only slightly above the 2.4% they got last year. Here is Newsweek's version of Trump's first set of lies ever, told inside Iraq!
(3) An apt reminder of a stellar record of service to the US: "Today, as we stand here together on this, the darkest of days, we renew that bond. We remember the light these individuals brought to each of you here today. We renew our efforts to bring justice down on those who seek to harm us. We renew our efforts to keep our people safe, and to rid the world of terrorism. We will continue to move forward. But we will never forget." ~ Robert Mueller, 30 years ago on Winter Solstice, as he began his quest to solve the mystery of Pan Am Flight 103 and bring the culprits to justice
(4) Book review: Garrels, Anne, Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia, unabridged audiobook on 7 CDs, read by the author, HighBridge Audio, 2016 [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Cover image for Anne Garrels' 'Putin Country' Most of us never see the real Russia. Even those of us who get to travel to the vast country see only what is intended for tourists to see. In this book, foreign correspondent Anne Garrels shows us Russia's well-hidden parts: Its bizarre economy, its social divide between Moscow's elite and the urban/rural poor, and its widespread corruption. Garrels writes that to decide which part of Russia to explore, she took a map of the country and threw a pencil at it, which landed on Chelyabinsk, not far from the Ural Mountains, near the European border.
With a population of just over 1 million, Chelyabinsk is perhaps best-known for the 2013 meteor exploding at an altitude of about 27 km, generating a shock wave that injured over 1000 people. Garrels has been going to Chelyabinsk for over 20 years, so as to explore the area and its people in depth. The area was closed to foreigners during the Soviet era, given its military and industrial make-up, including two mysterious "nuclear cities," which are still out of bounds to everyone.
Garrels covers the harsh experiences of the region in the 1990s, as industries were privatized under Boris Yeltsin, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Workers were not being paid and they had to improvise by selling vegetables from their gardens or traveling to China to buy cheap goods, to cite just two examples.
Putin became popular by talking about Russia's greatness, and by promising to enrich the impoverished country and bringing about stability. Given how low the economy had sunk, it wasn't difficult to bring about steady improvements. However, corruption is still a big problem and there does not seem to be an end in sight for it, given that nurturing and protecting families depends on it. No part of the Russian society, from goods-procurement to higher education, is immune from such corruption.
Garrels received a visit from Russia's security agency one early morning, was taken in for questioning, and told to leave the country immediately, with no explanation (she had previously been expelled as an ABC correspondent under Soviet rule in 1982). She was later allowed back in and continued her observations, but now, people were more cautious in their interactions with her.
For those who want to gain in-depth knowledge of a small part of Russia, this is a great read. For others, Garrels' NPR interview about her book (podcast and transcript) is a more-efficient substitute.

2018/12/26 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The ship that, at the end of 1899, was in two different days of the week, two different months, two different seasons, and two different centuries Heart-wrenching violence against women: The attitude that men own women ('If I can't have you, nobody else can') is alive and well in Iran, and the authorities pay only lip service to fixing the problem Berlin wall being knocked down (1) Miscellaneous images: [Left] Hard to believe, but true: The story of the ship that, at the end of 1899, was in two different days of the week, two different months, two different seasons, and two different centuries. [Center] Heart-wrenching violence against women: The attitude that men own women ("If I can't have you, nobody else can") is alive and well in Iran, and the authorities pay only lip service to fixing the problem. (#MasoumehJalilpour) [Right] Berlin Wall, redux: Wouldn't it be ironic if Trump's Wall were built and, in some future year, people gathered to knock it down as they celebrated?
(2) Real-time face-capture technology: The January 2019 issue of Communications of the ACM features the technology in its cover feature. While the development is technically quite exciting, it leads to the easy production of fake videos that are nearly indistinguishable from real ones. The image in front on the cover is generated by combining the other two images. More examples of facial reenactments, where mouth and lip configurations are superimposed from one input video to another video, appear in this image from page 102.
(3) Former president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sends a Christmas message to the world: Or is this one of those fake videos made with the new face-capture technology? [See item (2) above]
(4) Trump's latest whopper, about the government shut-down and out-of-work federal workers: "Many of those workers have said to me ... 'stay out until you get the funding for the wall.'"
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Happy Kwanzaa! Celebrating the African diaspora, Kwanzaa means "first fruits of the harvest" in Swahili.
- Ten die in bus accident on a mountainous road within an Iran Azad University campus.
- US markets rebound, but investors are wary of additional losses: Monday's 2-3% loss was reversed by noon.
- Musical Christmas wish, somewhere in Los Angeles. [Photo]
- Putin's allies float the idea of constitutional changes to circumvent term limits for the 2-term President.
- History in pictures: A man and his dog at Yosemite National Park, 1924. [Photo]
(6) US Senator Susan Collin is no feminist: She could have quietly endorsed Brett Kavanaugh, but instead, she chose to deliver a 45-minute holier-than-thou lecture, sugar-coating her anti-feminist vote with feminist lingo and the many survivor stories she had heard. Her endorsement was a calculated move to win back the Republican support she had lost in voting against the repeal of Obamacare.
(7) How Europe deals with hi-tech competition from China: EU has approved plans from France, Germany, Italy, and the UK to fund up to $9.1 billion (8 billion euros) in microelectronics research.
(8) Gerald Ford [1913-2006], the 38th US president, died 12 years ago, today: He became US president when Richard Nixon resigned a year into his second term. Dubbed "the accidental president," Ford replaced VP Spiro Agnew when he was forced to resign. So, he was never elected to vice-presidency or presidency.

2018/12/25 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Trump is like a horse or elephant in a street parade: He needs a clean-up crew to pick up the mess after him! Trump and his GOP enablers: Someday, these two stooges and others will have to explain their behavior to the American people Trump and his indicted and/or racist sidekicks (1) Trump-related images, captured from Seth Myeres' recurring late-night-show segment "A Closer Look": [Left] Trump is like a horse or elephant in a street parade: He needs a clean-up crew to pick up the mess after him! [Center] Trump and his GOP enablers: Someday, these two stooges and others will have to explain their behavior to the American people. [Right] Trump and his indicted and/or racist co-conspirators.
(2) Archaeology: A Persian military camp, that may have been used as a base camp by King Cambyses in his all-out attack on Egypt more than 2500 years ago, has been unearthed in northern Israel.
(3) What I did on a windy, but gorgeous, Christmas Day in Goleta: My older son, my daughter, and I went to Ming Dynasty for a traditional Jewish Christmas-Day lunch! Two years ago, my second son was with us also. After our buffet lunch, a long walk was called for, so we went to the recently restored UCSB North Campus Open Space and, from there, to the beach and back.
(4) Trump plans to complete the border wall by Election Day 2020: Iranians have a saying for every occasion. The appropriate one here is, "The man was banned from entering a village, he was asking for directions to the mayor's house." [Read it in Persian] In English, we have, "Learn to walk before you run."
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump on Dems' oversight in 2019: It's harassment, and "I know how to handle that better than anybody."
- Let's pass this law: Government shutdown means that salaries and services at the WH and Congress are cut.
- And now for something different this Christmas Day: Belly dancing to Jingle Bells.
- This is how giant ships are launched: Usually, sideways, not lengthwise! [11-minute video]
(6) Interesting debate on Sunday's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" program: "Many people are hoping 2019 will be a better year for the world. But is it possible 2018 was actually the best year ever?" Steven Pinker, psychology professor at Harvard and the persistent optimist who thinks we live in the best of times, debated Niall Ferguson, senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, who represented a pessimistic view that we must not lose sight of black-swan events (major wars and the like) amid generally improving conditions. [Teaser]
[I have not found a full video of this must-see debate; I will post the video if and when it becomes available.]
(7) Final thought for the day: "The danger with hatred is, once you start in on it, you get a hundred times more than you bargained for. Once you start, you can't stop." ~ Philip Roth

2018/12/24 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Bill Gates thanks his Secret Santa for making a charity donation in his name George H. W. Bush and the child he secretly sponsored Former President Barack Obama plays Santa to kids in a children's hospital (1) Charitable leaders: [Left] Bill Gates thanks his Secret Santa for making a charity donation in his name. [Center] George H. W. Bush secretly sponsored a child in the Philippines and served as his pen pal for years. [Right] Former President Barack Obama plays Santa to kids in a children's hospital.
(2) A very happy holiday season and new year to you! May you enjoy the Christmas break with your loved ones and may the United States of America get back on course from its current nose-dive into fake greatness.
(3) US stocks fell another 2-3% in today's shortened trading session: Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 653 points, smashing a 100-year-old record dating back to Christmas Eve 1918. [Chart]
(4) In Sydney, Australia, if you use your cell phone while driving, they will take your picture and fine you, much like the use of remotely-operated cameras at intersections to catch those who run red lights.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Canada experiences immigration explosion in tech specialists: Rise of 83% to 538% in various categories.
- The impactful return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park: A fascinating segment in CBS's "60 Minutes."
- Trump: I've done more damage to ISIS than all recent presidents...! Twitter reader: Hey, you misspelled USA!
- Vanity Fair headline: The Terrifying Paradox in Trump's War on Everything. [Photo]
- James Cordern, Emily Blunt, and Lin-Manuel Miranda perform segments from 22 musicals in 12 minutes.
- A most-impressive example of shadow-dancing. [Video]
- Beautiful music from Iran's Caspian-Sea region: Guilan Symphony Orchestra performs. [4-minute video]
- Music from Iran's Shooshtar-Dezful region, performed by the Rastak Ensemble. [5-minute video]
- Iran tourism: Introducing the city of Isfahan and its wonders. [3-minute video]
- Iran history/tourism: Tour of the historic city of Bishapour in Kazeroon, Fars Province. [8-minute video]
(6) Shame on con-men who fool the masses by pretending to represent God, and on their enablers in Iran and elsewhere: This con-man/cleric relates the story of Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law touching a wife on the shoulder, which immediately led to signs of pregnancy and, within an hour, the delivery of a baby boy!
(7) Mega-mall, with its architecture inspired by several historical sites and monuments, set to open in Tehran, Iran: Interestingly, this video opens with an Islamic call to prayer, indicating that it was made to appease the mullahs. Here is a YouTube video about the same project.

2018/12/23 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Gift idea: For your liberal friends in the US, there is this anti-Trump mug, available from various sellers at $10-15 Gift idea for a loved one in Iran: You can make them an overnight book author at a cost of 5-10 million tomans! Nerdy Christmas message: me^(rry) = x - mas! (1) A couple of holiday gift ideas and a nerdy message: [Left] For your liberal friends in the US, there is this anti-Trump mug, available from various sellers at $10-15 (excuse the poor grammar). [Center] And for a loved one in Iran, you can make them an overnight book author at a cost of 5-10 million tomans, equivalent to about 500-1000 US dollars (see the list of titles and prices)! [Right] Deriving the equation: me^(rry) = x–mas!
(2) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: This is the title of a 1953 short story by Dorothy M. Johnson, later turned into a 1962 John Ford movie by the same title. In the now-classic Western film, James Stewart plays a wimpy scholar who gets involved in a shoot-out against the outlaw character Valance (played by Lee Marvin). Valance is shot dead before he can draw his gun, with the Stewart character thinking that he accomplished the impossible feat. However, Valance was actually shot dead by a hidden sharp-shooter, played by John Wayne. Trump and his sidekicks, Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, think that their strengths and smarts slayed Hillary Clinton, while the fatal shot was actually fired by a Russian sharp-shooter, as new revelations confirm.
(3) Trump reportedly rattled by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis' resignation letter and the Fed's interest-rate hike. He is considering firing the Fed Chief, as #TrumpResigns trends on Twitter.
(4) Advances in game-playing programs: The unprecedented success of Google's AlphaZero shows that DeepMind has produced an algorithm capable of mastering even the toughest board games with fixed rules.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hundreds perish in Indonesia from tsunami induced by underwater volcanic eruption and mudslide.
- Norwegian and Danish women beheaded in Morocco: ISIS seems to want to scare tourists away.
- Trump, angered by Jim Mattis' resignation letter, fires him two months before his resignation date. [NYT]
- Acting President appoints another acting secretary! Deputy Defense Secretary takes Jim Mattis' position.
- The Trump presidency faces four major threats, all beginning with 'M': Markets; Mueller; Military; Media.
- US House enacts the National Quantum Computing Initiative, a 10-year program to spur R&D in the field.
- It's ironic that a guy who looks like this, and needs spray-on hair to feel whole, considers his race superior.
- Just another beautiful day in Goleta, California: Photo of the car in front of me at Fairview-101 on-ramp.
(6) Tweet of the day: Aida Ahadiany observes that Iranian films contain too much screaming, concluding with the advice that sorrow, pain, and uncertainty cannot be communicated effectively in this way. [Tweet image]
(7) Sustainability research gains prominence at UCSB: Henley Hall, a new building to house our Institute for Energy Efficiency, is expected to open in fall 2020.

2018/12/22 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Map of Japan and the expected location of a magnitude-9.0 quake in the next 3 decades Cartoon: Crushed by the weight of the news The grocery chain Kroger has teamed up with Nuro to expand the use of self-driving food delivery vehicles in Arizona (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Japan is quietly preparing for a magnitude-9.0 quake and associated 30-meter tsunami waves, that are said to have 3 in 4 odds of occurring near its southern shores over the next 3 decades. [Center] Does anyone else feel crushed by the news (both volume and gravity)? [Right] The grocery chain Kroger has teamed up with Nuro to expand the use of self-driving food delivery vehicles in Arizona.
(2) Trump's second gift to Putin in as many days: He lifts sanctions against an oligarch linked to Putin and to the bank that was to finance the Trump Tower Moscow project.
(3) Consciousness and associated psychological processes—thoughts, beliefs, ideas, intentions, and more—are products of non-conscious processes: Confused? Read this article!
(4) History of human space flight: A wonderful resource page concerning the history of human space flight, as we prepare to celebrate in 2019 the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Happy winter/summer! As we enter the winter season, our friends down-under are starting their summer.
- Last night's gorgeous sunset in Carpinteria, posted by one of our local Channel 3 reporters.
- US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg undergoes emergency lung-cancer surgery.
- Yes, Mr. Ryan, America is broken, as you observed, but I wish you'd say a few words about who broke it!
- Anyone who disagrees with Trump is weak and stupid: This week it was the Fed's turn to be dissed!
- Mitch McConnell says he is distressed over Jim Mattis resigning. Here are his distressed and normal looks!
- Los Angeles names the 134 freeway "President Barack H. Obama Highway." [Photo]
- Two young UCSB professors have been honored with Northrop Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award.
(6) Iran's Supreme Leader essentially pre-approves the use of deadly force on street protesters: Normally, he would wait until after the protests to blame the US, Israel, the Saudis, or whoever else came to his mind. By saying the US is hatching evil plans for 2019 (perhaps worried about Islamic Republic's 40th anniversary celebrations, which would be natural targets of protests), he is giving his security apparatus a blank check to deal with them as they please. All street protesters will now be viewed as US agents, unless proven otherwise.
(7) Major airport is shut down because of drone threat: Planes at Gatwick Airport, UK's second largest, were grounded due to repeated, deliberate drone interference with flight paths; no terrorism seems to be involved.
(8) Final thought for the day: "We need to write now, write well—tell the truth in all its messy complexity. It's our best shot at helping to preserve a democracy in which facts still exist and all of us can speak freely." ~ Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author and President of PEN America

2018/12/21 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Winter Solstice and the Iranian Festival of Yalda, celebrating the longest night of the year. Colored eggshells: Apt image for educating racists A gorgeous sunrise in Goleta, California, a day before the Winter Solstice (Shab-e Yalda) (1) Appreciating the colors of nature: [Left] Happy Winter Solstice and the Iranian Festival of Yalda, celebrating the longest night of the year. [Center] Colored eggshells: Apt image for educating racists. [Right] A gorgeous sunrise in Goleta, California, a day before the Winter Solstice (Shab-e Yalda).
(2) The US has abandoned the Kurds for the second time, once leaving them at the mercy of the butcher of Baghdad who gassed them en mass and now leaving them vulnerable to massacre by Assad and Erdogan.
(3) Free press is a rare privilege: Only 13% of people live where the press operates with little influence, few legal constraints, and no fear of repercussions. [Map credit: Time magazine]
(4) Mohammed bin Salman to his security chief: "Kill this man, jail that woman!" Reply: "Yes, sir!"
Donald Trump to FBI: "Jail this man, investigate that woman!" Reply: "Are you f---ing crazy?"
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- For years, Facebook exempted business partners from its rules, giving them broad access to private data.
- Techiest US state: Massachusetts tops Milken Institute's 2018 State Technology and Science Index.
- Interesting architectures in Iran: Ghazvin Bazaar and other samples of work by Goli Tavakoli. [Photos]
- Donald Knuth worries about algorithms getting too prominent, and so complicated they cannot be read.
- In a first, Reporters Without Borders places the US among the top-5 deadliest countries for journalists.
- A market in Tehran, Iran, with Shab-e Yalda (Winter Solstice) decorations and antique home implements.
- Democracies flourish where there is bright light. Autocracies prosper in total darkness.
(6) Scientific fraud: Fei Wang, Tenured Associate Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at U. Illinois, has been fired after revelations that he had fabricated data in NSF and NIH grant applications.
(7) Science's big crisis, created by big data: In this age of "big data," scientists tend to perform statistical analyses long after the data have been collected. This creates a reproducibility crisis, fueled in part by the analyses applied to data-driven hypotheses, the opposite of how things are traditionally done. Scientists can luckily see interesting but spurious patterns in a dataset, leading them to formulate hypotheses which will, of course, be validated by the data. To protect against this eventuality, data should be seen only after the hypothesis-formulation stage.
(8) Tweet of the day: Do not say that 3 pre-school kids were killed in Zahedan (Iran). Honor their memories by mentioning their names to the clueless authorities running our country. Scream Mona Khosro-Parast, Maryam Nokandi, and Saba Arabi! We people are more than a bunch of numbers in news stories. [Persian tweet]
(9) Final thoughts for the day, with calligraphic images from Time magazine, issue of December 24/31, 2018.
- "Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom." ~ John McCain [1936-2018] [Image]
- "Freedom of the press ensures that the abuse of every other freedom can be known, can be challenged, and even defeated." ~ Kofi Annan [1938-2018] [Image]

2018/12/20 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Sample social-media posts in the US by Russia's Internet Research Agency, Image 1 Sample social-media posts in the US by Russia's Internet Research Agency, Image 2 Sample social-media posts in the US by Russia's Internet Research Agency, Image 3 (1) Sample social-media posts in the US by Russia's Internet Research Agency, which operates a troll farm. These samples exploit three key wedge issues: Military/veterans, race, and religion. In the category of race, Russian trolls played on legitimate grievances of black Americans to sow discord and suppress votes.
(2) Which is it, Donald: Have we defeated ISIS or are we leaving the fight to others? You can't have it both ways! And, by the way, we already had by far the most powerful military in the world; you aren't building it!
(3) In a chain of tweets, beginning with these two, Trump defends his "charitable" foundation, which he is dissolving in the face of allegations of fraud, much like what he did with Trump University in 2016.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Correlation between share of white people with no college degree and districts' 2018 voting margin. [Chart]
- Rudy Giuliani has become an embarrassment to himself and to our country: When will this prolonged end?
- Trump Foundation joins his University in the dustbin of history, following allegations of illegal conduct.
- Despite dozens of daily air strikes against ISIS, Trump declares victory and orders US forces out of Syria.
- Illinois AG slams the Catholic Church for its protection of hundreds of accused priests in her jurisdiction.
- Christmas music by a wonderful couple at Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace. [Video 1] [Video 2]
(5) Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis resigns, effective the end of February 2019, over differences with Trump. (Differences? Did he just wake up from a 2-year slumber? There goes the last remaining adult in the room, taking with him a shattered reputation!)
(6) The House Democratic majority just broke Trump, even before being sworn in: He rescinds the threat to shut down the government unless he gets funding for his wall, saying he will fund it some other way.
(7) MPAA rating chair retires after nearly two decades: Joan Graves, who oversaw Motion Picture Association of America's film rating endeavors, talks with NPR's Ari Shapiro about the big business of movie ratings. Among interesting tidbits in this program, we learn that many directors sign contracts with movie studios that include explicit mention of the finished product's rating. They consult with the rating board's liaison office in script and all later stages to ensure they can hit the targeted rating. One filmmaker wanted to know if it would be possible to make a movie about a womanizing and drug-using celebrity ("Ray"), while keeping the rating PG-13! If a movie targeting PG-13 ends up being rated R, the financial implications are enormous. Here's another interesting tidbit: MPAA rates films nationally, but regions of the US are sensitive to different things: Blasphemy in the South, nudity and sexuality in the Midwest, violence in coastal areas.
(8) Trump can't feign ignorance of campaign-finance laws: He once bragged to Larry King that he knows more about campaign-finance law than anybody. [Tweet image]
(9) The "Seven Friends" are back together: Afif Naeemi, the last among a group of imprisoned Baha'i leaders in Iran, has been released after serving 10 years in jail.

2018/12/19 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for the book 'What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism' (1) Book review: Rather, Dan and Elliot Kirschner, What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism, unabridged audiobook on 6 CDs, read by Dan Rather, HighBridge Audio, 2017. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Rather, 87, a venerated journalist for much of his life (until he was ousted from CBS for not sufficiently vetting falsified documents critical of President George W. Bush), is now viewed as a voice of reason in our tumultuous political climate. However, it is difficult to listen to him without remembering his mis-steps. Additionally, his once-clear anchorman's enunciation has deteriorated with age, making one wish that the publisher had chosen a different reader for the audiobook.
Rather's writing style comes across as flat and cliche-ridden. Still, I found quite a few interesting topics in this collection of original essays, which touch upon the foundations of our country, from freedom, voting, and the press, to empathy, inclusion, and service, along with institutions and traits that make it all possible, namely, public education and the spirit of innovation in science, technology, and medicine.
In a November 2017 interview with NPR, Rather spoke about this book. Key parts of the interview covered patriotism being used as a political bludgeon, his mix of optimism and alarm about our country, and the impact he has had via Facebook that he could not have had at CBS.
(2) A clear case of collusion: For a whole year, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been attacked by Donald Trump from the inside and by Russian trolls and disinformation agents from the outside.
(3) Another genius flees Iran: Shabnam Raayai-Ardakani, a Baha'i student who was prevented from doing graduate work at Iran's Sharif University of Technology, came to America, got her PhD at MIT, and won the prestigious American Physical Society's Stanley Corrsin Dissertation Award in Fluid Dynamics. She is now a post-doctoral researcher at MIT.
(4) Judge to Michael Flynn, when postponing his sentencing: "All along you were an unregistered agent of a foreign country while serving as the national security adviser to the president of the United States. Arguably, that undermines everything that flag over here stands for." [Full story]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Dow Jones Industrial Average, and US stock market as a whole, in seriously negative territory for 2018.
- Where are Trump tweets about the market tanking? You can't boast about the highs and not own the lows!
- Film director and actress Penny Marshall dead at 75.
- California man details plans for ISIS-supported attacks around San Francisco that would "redefine terror."
- The fascinating story of meteorite hunters and their search for the most-coveted extra-terrestrial rock.
- Merriam-Webster's 2018 word of the year: Justice
- Persian equivalent terms: "charkhat" ("four lines") for "hashtag" (#) and "tarakonesh" for "transaction."
- Undersea servers solve a most challenging problem facing data centers: Keeping electronics cool.
(6) Pathology goes digital: After a biopsied tissue sample is sliced and stained, the slides are scanned and presented to a program, which uses its machine-learning training to spot subtle patterns and provide advice to the pathologist. [Source: IEEE Spectrum, issue of December 2018]
(7) The Internet of disposable things: Throwaway paper and plastic sensors will soon connect consumable goods and supplies. [Source: IEEE Spectrum, issue of December 2018]

2018/12/18 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Some Democrats are troubled that the three front-runners for 2020 presidential election are all white males (Biden, Sanders, O'Rourke) Essay: Americans are much better than Russians in fostering discord among themselves How anger became the dominant emotion in America's politics and our citizens' lives, and what to do about it (1) Thoughts on American politics: [Left] Some Democrats are troubled that the three front-runners for 2020 presidential election are all white males (Biden, Sanders, O'Rourke). [Center] Americans are much better than Russians in fostering discord among themselves (The Atlantic essay). [Right] How anger became the dominant emotion in America's politics and our citizens' lives, and what to do about it (The Atlantic article).
(2) Paul Ryan's new discovery, uttered with a straight face: "I worry about tribal identity politics becoming the new norm ... As conservatives, we always thought this was sort of a left-wing ... thing. Unfortunately, the right practices identity politics now as well."
(3) Tweet of the day, for my Persian-speaking readers: On the passage of time and changing circumstances making old songs less relevant, while they remain enjoyable and popular. [Tweet, with continuations]
(4) What do the Islamic State and Trump administration have in common? Total disregard for the environment. Islamic State groups left occupied areas polluted and in ruins, even poisoning the wells from which they drank.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- I'd agree with calling the media's tendency to sensationalize "fake news," but not if done by the biggest liar!
- Hey there boarders: Your tireless-finger president is concerned about your security. Rejoice! [Trump tweet]
- OPEC is cutting production under the influence of Russia, which seems to be running the organization.
- Today in US history: On December 17, 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant ordered Jews to leave the war zone.
- Clean-up crew caught clowning around and taking/posting offensive photos on the ruins of Camp Fire.
- Diverse film roles spanning six decades earn Jeff Bridges the Golden Globes' Cecil B. DeMille Award.
- Newly-discovered, pristine 4400-years-old tomb in Saqqara, Egypt, bears clues to the life of a royal official.
- Christmas music at the Camino Real Marketplace, played by members of Santa Barbara Trombone Society.
(6) Netflix competes with traditional movie studios, but it has a problem come Oscars time: Its films are not eligible for Academy Awards, unless they open in theaters. So, Netflix sent "Roma" to theaters first.
(7) Betting on climate change: Harvard has been quietly buying California vineyards and their water rights, particularly in areas expected to be hit hard by climate change, which would make the water rights precious.
(8) A teacher's best reward is former students appreciating and honoring him/her: This article (in Persian) appeared in Computer Report, the technical magazine of the Informatics Society of Iran, special issue on ISI's 40th anniversary, fall 2018. This brief reflection (in Persian) also appeared in the same issue.

2018/12/17 (Monday): Presenting some unusual puzzles and oddities from around the Internet.
A twist on Sudoku, Variant 1 A twist on Sudoku, Variant 2 A twist on Sudoku, Variant 3 A twist on Sudoku, Variant 4 A twist on Sudoku, Variant 5 A twist on Sudoku, Variant 6 (1) Six variations on Sudoku, from yesterday's New York Times: [Top left] Rules are the same as in ordinary Sudoku, with the added greater-than/less-than constraints. For example, the number in the top-left corner should be greater than the number to its right and less than the number below it. [Top center] You solve this one as usual, with the added constraints that the boxes having a small circle between them should hold consecutive numbers. So 1o should be followed by 2 and 6o by 5 or 7. [Top right] Here, all the numbers that are adjacent to 9 are given for each row and each column. For example, the entry 9 in the top row must be flanked by 2 and 3, in either order, and the 9 in the leftmost column has a 1 next to it (meaning that the 9 is either the top or bottom entry in Column 1). [Bottom left] The numbers along each thermometer go in increasing order, starting at the bulb, but they are not necessarily consecutive integers. For example, the thermometer on the bottom-right could hold 14679 but not 14689. [Bottom center] The miniature numbers should be placed in the four squares around them, but not necessarily in the given order. [Bottom right] This one's more challenging and rather different from ordinary Sudoku. The numbers 1 through 8 should not repeat in each of the three principal directions or within highlighted boxes. For example, using B for blank, the eight boxes on the left edge that should not contain repeated numbers are B2BBB7BB, and in the next-to-last layer from the top, the pattern is 2BBBBBB7.
(2) More puzzles from yesterday's New York Times: In these word puzzles, each of the eight 9-letter words, with one of its 3-letter blocks given, must be completed by using two of the triplets of letters provided on the left. A triplet must be used as a block, with letters appearing in the order given.
(3) One last unusual puzzle from yesterday's New York Times: Fill out the blank squares so that across and down entries are valid with both letter pairs given. For example, on the top left (across), the three blank squares should be filled out to give you two valid words _UA_ _ and _HO_ _.
(4) [Humor] Breaking news: Santa will out-source collection of wish lists to Facebook, his North-Pole workshop to Google's robotics branch, and gift delivery to Amazon, as he gets ready to retire.
(5) Cartoon caption—One legislator to another: "Can we limit the government shutdown to the White House?"
(6) Evolving lies: It didn't happen. ... Okay, it did, but I wasn't aware of it. ... I knew about it, but much later. So what? It wasn't illegal. ... It's a civil, not a criminal offense. ... [Insert the next explanation here.]

2018/12/16 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Colorful red and orange wildflowers, Photo 1 Colorful red and orange wildflowers, Photo 2 Colorful red and orange wildflowers, Photo 3 (1) Our beautiful world: Colorful red and orange wildflowers.
(2) Venezuela's inflation rate surpasses 1 million percent: That's 10,000-fold price increases (imagine a $3 cup of coffee costing $30,000), and there is no end in sight. [Source: Newsweek]
(3) Renewal of the Investor Visa Program (EB-5) being scrutinized: Under the Freedom of Information Act, DHS has been ordered to send a rep to a hearing on the Program's status and Jared Kushner's role in it.
(4) Mick Mulvaney, the new Acting WH Chief of Staff, on Donald Trump, shortly before the 2016 election: "Yes, I'm supporting Donald Trump. I'm doing so as enthusiastically as I can, given the fact that I think he's a terrible human being. But the choice on the other side is just as bad."
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Greta Thunberg, 15-year-old climate activist, addresses the plenary session at a UN climate conference.
- The worst nightmare of a con man: His entire life going under a powerful legal microscope.
- Google pauses development and sales of its facial recognition technology over ethical concerns. [Bloomberg]
- Persian music: Mandana Khazraei sings "Bezan Baaraan" (her own lyrics, on music by Babak Shahraki).
- This film-director-turned-baker from Vancouver converts pies to amazing works of art.
- Look what I found at Costco yesterday: An iPad guide for seniors, which is written in plain English!
(6) Trump question (June 2014 tweet): Are you allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence? Answer (December 2018): Your question went unanswered for 4.5 years, but we're about to find out, Donald!
(7) Supreme-Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking to a group of new citizens at the National Archives, in front of the original copy of the US Constitution: You play a vital part in cleansing the stains of discrimination from the country.
(8) Democracy can't prosper with intolerance: In this tweet, Negar Mortazavi complains that her posting of a suggestion to Prince Reza Pahlavi to deal with the dark sides of his father's and grandfather's authoritarian rules, before staking a claim as their successor, brought about loads of cussing, sexual insults, and misogynistic comments, mostly from expats who live in democratic societies. I often dismiss claims that Iranians aren't ready for democracy, but when faced with such intolerant reactions to a stated opinion, doubts set in!
(9) Final thought for the day: Every time the federal government injects $1 of subsidy into our higher-education system, universities raise tuition prices and pocket 2/3 of it. [Mitch Daniels, President of Purdue University and former Indiana Governor, this week on PBS "Firing Line"]

2018/12/15 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Front-page samples for National Enquirer Commemorative 40th-anniversary keepsake and the latest issue of 'Computer Report,' ISI's magazine Interesting protest sign: 'We need healthcare, not wealthcare' (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Front-page samples for National Enquirer. [Center] Informatics Society of Iran turns 40 (continued): I recently received a commemorative 40th-anniversary keepsake and the latest issue of Computer Report, ISI's magazine. [Right] Interesting protest sign: "We need healthcare, not wealthcare."
(2) National Enquirer, which published only positive stories about Trump and made-up conspiracy theories about his opponents (see the image above), turned relatively quite after the story of Trump buying out their files broke out. Now, the tabloid has turned against Trump in order to save itself and its owner, David Pecker.
(3) Yemen war being curtailed: For the first time since the passage of the War Powers Act in 1973, the US Senate orders the executive branch to end an unauthorized military campaign.
(4) Church abuse scandal: Of the 200+ clergymen identified as child molesters in Southern California, 12 held lengthy postings in the Santa Barbara area. [Source: Santa Barbara Independent]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Evangelical Christians' influence waning: They helped elect Trump, but cracks are appearing in their ranks.
- Putin's E. German Stasi card allowed him to operate in that country without being linked to the KGB. [NYT]
- My daughter is the 13th author on this research paper, published in the prestigious journal Science.
- Iranian regional music and dance: From the Bakhtiari or Lorestan region. [3-minute video]
- Quote of the day: "Everybody is talented, original, and has something important to say." ~ Brenda Ueland
(6) Physicist Ania Bleszynski Jayich, who happens to be my wall-to-wall neighbor, is slated to receive more than $0.5 million as part of a $12-million project to "dramatically expand our understanding of quantum coherence in solids by building on fundamental materials discoveries." [Source: Convergence, the magazine of engineering and the sciences at UCSB]
(7) The 15-second security screening: Recently unveiled at an airport in Dubai, the process consists of an iris scan, followed by a walk through a "smart tunnel." [Source: IEEE Spectrum, issue of December 2018]
(8) Interesting calendar fact: Next week's Winter Solstice gives us the shortest day (longest night) of the year, but not the earliest sunset or the latest sunrise. In the Northern Hemisphere, the earliest sunset occurs a week or two before the Winter Solstice and the latest sunrise a week or two after. The timing of the two events is reversed in the Southern Hemisphere. [Table]

2018/12/14 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Status update by Sisyphus: 'Almost at the top, fam!' Cartoon: The Democrats finally give Trump a wall National Christmas Tree: 'The tear gas cannisters and razor wire are a nice touch ...' (1) Cartoons: [Left] Status update by Sisyphus: "Almost at the top, fam!" [Center] The Democrats finally give Trump a wall. [Right] National Christmas Tree: "The tear gas cannisters and razor wire are a nice touch ..."
(2) Engineering schools are getting more serious about teaching ethics: The coming dominance of autonomous and intelligent systems makes the ever-important ethics course more indispensable.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Iranian folk music: Sima Bina performs an old favorite from the Caspian Sea region. [Video]
- Persian Music: A beautiful traditional piece by Darvish Khan entitled "Parichehr and Parizad." [Video]
- Humor—New book being written for Trump by his attorneys: The Art of Plea Bargain Deal
- Cartoon of the day: Dilbert gets to write a performance review for himself! [Image]
- Quote of the day: "Everything you want is on the other side of fear." ~ Jack Canfield
- For cat lovers: The $180 Mousr robot entertains your cat(s). [Source: IEEE Spectrum, December 2018]
(4) Netanyahu says attacking Iran is on the table if Israel's survival is threatened: He maintains that Khashoggi's murder, which is "shocking and horrible," must be assessed in the context of Saudi Arabia's role in regional and, hence, world stability. Netanyahu did not indicate whether detainment and torturing of women's rights activists are also necessary for regional stability. [BBC Persian report]
(5) [Follow-up to the previous item, written in reply to a Facebook commenter who objected to the part about what Netanyahu didn't say.] In politics, as in other aspects of life, much is written between the lines, which should be deduced. Politicians hedge their statements to leave themselves room for denial or re-interpretation. Reacting "within the context of world stability," as suggested by Netanyahu, means we should not sanction or otherwise apply pressure to MBS for murdering Khashoggi, because that would de-stabilize the Kingdom. Now if a gruesome murder, followed by dismemberment and packing in suitcases to remove the body from the Saudi Consulate, isn't enough to raise objection, how important are mere arrests and torture of women activists in Saudi Arabia? All dictators and their apologists resort to people's fear of insecurity and instability to justify their actions, and this includes the mullahs in Iran. As I write, 251 journalists are imprisoned worldwide and, while Turkey is still the worst offender, the number in Saudi Arabia has doubled to 16 (including 4 women who wrote about women's rights) since 2017.

2018/12/13 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Las Veras Ranch gifted to UCSB: View Las Veras Ranch gifted to UCSB: Map A wall ornament costing less than $20 brightens up my dining room (1) Miscellaneous photos: [Left & Center] The fabulous Las Veras Ranch gifted to UCSB (see Item 2 below). [Right] A wall ornament costing less than $20 brightens up my dining room.
(2) UCSB receives a major land gift: Las Varas Ranch, an 1800-acre agricultural property located 6 miles west of the UCSB campus, stretching between the Pacific Ocean (2-mile coastline) and Los Padres National Forest, has been gifted to UCSB by Charles T. Munger. For now, UCSB will keep the property as a working ranch, until the completion of consultations about its long-term use to benefit the community for generations to come.
(3) Science which is disliked by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards: Kaveh Madani, who narrowly escaped arrest when he left Iran, chimes in on the fate of detained fellow scientist Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi.
(4) Misogynistic Iranian laws: Most discriminatory laws against women were passed in the early years after the Islamic Revolution. Recent cosmetic reforms have not significantly changed the situation. This article examines the laws and the role played in their enactment by women parliamentarians.
(5) Racism personified: "Newly elected Democrats all hate white men, are Jews, Muslims, college queers, and black church ladies." ~ Conservative commentator Ann Coulter
(6) How our brain marks time: Recent neuroscience discoveries have told us about specific brain regions that deal with time-stamping of events, before they are stored away in memory. But it is still unclear how the passage of time is marked. Calendars, and the associated notions of days, weeks, months, and years, are social constructs. There are tribes on Earth that have no words for such time units and whose members are unaware of how old they are, using instead changes and crossing of life thresholds (such as menstruation or marriage) as time markers. It is conjectured that our brain does something similar. Given that philosophers and physicists are still arguing about the nature of time, we are a long way from fully understanding how our brains record and process temporal information. [Summary of New Yorker article]
(7) Iranian women are singing and playing music in record numbers, despite a multitude of governmental restrictions.The following videos from Navahang's Facebook page show the depth and diversity of talent.
- Solmaz Naraghi performs the song "Delakam" ("My Little Heart"). [1-minute video]
- Mahdieh Mohammad-Khani performs the oldie song "Bot-e Chin" ("Chinese Idol"). [1-minute video]
- An oldie song, performed by Rahaa (Raaheleh Barzegari). [1-minute video]
(8) Apple's significant expansions in sites and jobs: The plans reportedly include a $1 billion campus in Austin, Texas, sites in San Diego and Culver City, California, and $10 billion new investment in US data centers.

2018/12/12 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Holiday lighting displays around Riverside's Mission Inn, Photo 1 Holiday lighting displays around Riverside's Mission Inn, Photo 2 Holiday lighting displays around Riverside's Mission Inn, Photo 3 (1) My two-day visit to Riverside and its historic Mission Inn: This was a group travel event on A large Santa Barbara Airbus, filled to its 56-passenger capacity. My seat, right behind the driver, had the added benefit of easy access to community snacks! The group stopped for lunch in Old Town Pasedena, where I decided to go on a walking exploration of the area, including City Hall and other government buildings, in lieu of eating at Cheesecake Factory. Traveling from Pasadena to Riverside, I photographed snow-capped mountains and, shortly after arrival at Mission Inn, the view from my room's window. Here are a couple of night shots from my room and views of the gorgeous patio where we dined. After dinner, I walked the streets around city-block-sized Inn, photographing the elaborate lighting displays and recording street musicians playing in the area. [Video 1: Banjo player] [Video 2: Electric-guitar player (rock 'n roll)] [Video 3: Guitar player (blues)] Today, on the trip's second day, I went on a guided tour of Mission Inn. The tour included both areas that are parts of the 240-room hotel and private areas, some of which are used for meetings, weddings, and the like. The Inn, a national historical monument and a major landmark in its area, isn't a converted mission, as one might think, but was built in the mission revival style by founder Frank Miller, who inherited the property from his father. The Inn's architecture and the vast collection of art it houses are reminiscent of Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
(2) Time magazine's Person of the Year announced: It is "The Guardians," a collection of journalists, headed by Jamal Khashoggi, who have been murdered, arrested, or harassed for speaking truth to power. [Cover image]
(3) Intel unveils its new 3D packaging technology: Feasibility of 3D memories had been shown earlier, but Intel is the first to bring 3D stacking to CPUs, GPUs, and AI processors in production.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- An awful lot of witches: All the associates and family members of Trump who had contacts with Russians.
- Two Democrats, the Liar-in-Chief, and a motionless department-store dummy meet in the Oval Office.
- Climate scientists consider Trump a dangerous clown for dismissing the greatest threat our country faces.
- As labor protests continue in Iran, students who support the protests targeted by the security apparatuses.
- Baha'i businesses in Iran charged with code violation and closed down for observing a religious holiday.
- The best way to teach ethics to your children or students is to treat them ethically.
- Iran's Supreme Leader supports the Yellow-Vest protesters in France. [Cartoon, from IranWire.com]
(5) Mikhail Gorbachev writes a forceful and touching tribute to George H. W. Bush in Time magazine, issue of December 17, 2018, under the title "The War We Ended—and a Peace in Jeopardy."

2018/12/11 (Tuesday): Book review: Mundy, Liza, Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Erin Bennett, Hachette Audio, 2017.
Cover image for Liza Mundy's 'Code Girls' [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
If Hidden Figures wasn't enough to convince you that women can excel at the same level as and beyond men, when given opportunities, this book will. To relate a favorite quote of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking on behalf of women, "I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks."
Let me begin by comparing the book to Hidden Figures (HF), as the subject matters are quite similar. Unlike HF, CG includes a lot of detail about the actual code-breaking challenges and methods, down to the names of ciphers and design of coding machines and the algorithms they used. There is attention to the women's personal and social lives, but those aren't the primary foci. Perhaps, this was made possible by code-breaking being more intuitive than space-trajectory calculations.
World War II, with its attendant shortage of men to fill available science/technology positions, provided an opportunity for women to move away from what were then nominal careers for them (teacher, librarian, etc.) and step up to roles as scientists and engineers. In fact, the US government recruited some of the code-breakers it needed to help intercept and decode enemy messages from among math teachers, who simply assumed that a math degree for a woman meant a teaching career.
Thousands of women, recruited from small-town schools and elite women's colleges were involved in the secret American program to break German, Japanese, Italian, and other communications ciphers from our adversaries. These efforts were no less important in shortening the War and ensuring the eventual victory than the contributions of those who took up arms or made battle plans in Europe and elsewhere.
Recruiting women for code-breaking jobs had started earlier, but it took greater urgency after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The US Navy and other military branches expanded their search for talent, once the US officially entered the war. Interestingly, the branches of US military were competing in this domain and did not always share information with each other!
The women code-breakers used a combination of intuition, knowledge of math/stat, human engineering, and dogged hard work to attack each new code, sometimes taking weeks or months to break them. Mundy does provide a great deal of technical details about the secret codes and methods used to attack them. As the D-Day landing approached, the women were also charged with creating fake coded messages to mislead the axis forces about the actual attack site.
Sexism still prevailed in the military and elsewhere, as these women were helping with the war effort beyond everyone's expectations, breaking increasingly complex codes. For example, there were some who held the misguided view that women could not be trusted to keep secrets. Ironically, many of these women did not even share the nature of what they were doing with their families, and Mundy extracted information from them after providing assurances that NSA was okay with it. One person in charge of hiring women code-breakers reportedly told those who provided him with talent to send only pretty girls, because he did not want to be stuck with them after the end of the War!
Mundy's meticulous research for the book included numerous interviews with surviving code girls. The stories in this book form a nice complement to the much better-known efforts of the group at Bletchley Park, led by the British mathematician Alan Turing, which was made into a successful movie. Searching on-line, I could not find whether CG is being made into a movie. There is also no information on whether these women were honored with medals or otherwise.
Here is a 69-minute talk by the author about the book and its heroes. Mundy does mention at the very end of the Q&A period that the story has been optioned for a movie, but that there are no definite plans at this time.

2018/12/10 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UCSB campus under unusual clouds, photo 1 UCSB campus under unusual clouds, photo 2 UCSB campus under unusual clouds, photo 3 (1) Unusual cloud formations and lighting produced these wonderful images on the UCSB Campus this evening.
(2) Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 70: Every day should be human-rights day, but let's celebrate anyway by renewing our pledge to stand for rights and against all forms of injustice and disenfranchisement.
(3) A tweet for every occasion, just like Hallmark cards: About to appoint his third Chief of Staff in 2 years, Trump is being hit on the head with his 2012 tweet criticizing Obama for having 3 Chiefs of Staff (not Chief of Staffs) in less than 3 years. [Tweet image]
(4) Quote of the day: "Saudis would be speaking Farsi in about a week without US support." ~ US Senator Lindsay Graham, fear-mongering against Iran
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The "law-and-order" president will likely serve jail time for breaking campaign-finance and other laws.
- The company you keep: US joins Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait to challenge climate-change report.
- Duh-worthy research conclusion: College students changing majors pay more, take longer to graduate!
- A glimpse of unusual freeways in China: Marvelous feats of engineering! [Video]
- Spell checkers can't save the illiterate and the careless: Trump's "Smocking Gun" deemed mock-worthy!
(6) Jon Meacham's eulogy for GHWB: If you did not hear presidential historian Jon Meacham speak at George H. W. Bush's funeral, this 12-minute video is for you. Don't miss this touching and humorous speech!
(7) Fasten your seat belts: The stock market is following the chaos in the White House and the inconsistent ramblings of the Idiot-in-Chief. Some analysts predict continued volatility through 2019 and a drop of about 15% before an eventual rebound.
(8) China's very advanced on-line services: According to Fareed Zakaria, on his Sunday CNN program, very few Chinese carry cash or credit cards. A smartphone-based payment system is used everywhere. You can pay merchants or individuals a sum ranging from as little as a few cents to many thousands of dollars, with a tiny fee; even beggars have gone the way of electronic payment! One reason for China's leap forward in the area of electronic payments is that credit cards never took hold there, so there isn't an establishment to oppose the lightweight, low-overhead payment system. In another domain, food can be delivered in most parts of the country in as little as 30 minutes, arriving hot and costing only about $0.70 extra. Scooter-riding Chinese do the delivery, a la Uber. When there is a shortage of delivery people, a higher compensation is announced on short notice, using artificial intelligence, bringing more people to the service.

2018/12/09 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
New York City subway at rush hour, 1950s Aerial view of NYC's Times Square, 1967 Flight attendants, 1960s (1) History in pictures: [Left] New York City subway at rush hour, 1950s. [Center] Aerial view of NYC's Times Square, 1967. [Right] Flight attendants, 1960s.
(2) Emotionally Sentient Agents: This is the cover feature of the December 2018 issue of Communications of the ACM. Emotionally aware systems that respond to social and emotional cues can be more engaging and trusted, hence the incentive to study such systems, including issues of reliability and transparency. [Image]
(3) Persian Music: Shab-e Yalda, the Iranian festival celebrating Winter Solstice and the longest night of the year, is coming in a couple of weeks. Here is a song about it.
(4) The Armenian deduk, a wonderful double-reed woodwind musical instrument made of apricot wood:
Master deduk player Andranik Mesropian demonstrates dedul with his band. [Video 1]
Jivan Gasparyan's rendition of "They Took My Love Away," a tender song, featuring multiple duduks. [Video 2]
Deduk featured at a Yanni concert. [Video 3]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- It is said that Trump's Chief of Staff John Kelly is stepping down. I think the correct term is "stepping up"!
- A close look inside the International Space Station, including how the astronauts live. [25-minute video]
- The cast of "Friends," many moons ago. [Photos]
- Introducing a new musical instrument to symphony orchestras: The mechanical typewriter!
- Song and dance from Iran, featuring regional music and costumes. [Video]
(6) Fifty years ago, innovator extraordinaire Douglas Engelbart presented a demo at a technical conference that foretold today's on-line information services and preceded the Web by 20 years.
(7) College Cup's championship match: Akron, 5-1 semifinal victor over Michigan State, and Maryland, 2-0 winner over Indiana, met this afternoon for NCAA's soccer title. On the other side of Harder Stadium, across from me, are the VIP seating section (middle) and the two teams' cheering sections (left and right) [Photo]. On my side are general-admission and student seating sections. Are cameras this big really needed in the age of nanoelectronics? A UCSB musical group performed the National Anthem.
- I was expecting Akron to dominate, but Maryland had the upper hand in the scoreless first half.
- Maryland scored on a PK in the 57th minute.
- Akron presented some serious threats 15-20 minutes to the end of the game and again near the end.
- The Akron goalie was penalized for tripping a rushing forward in the 76th minute, but he saved the PK.
- Maryland claimed the NCAA soccer championship by beating Akron 1-0 and basking in the glory.

2018/12/08 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Beautiful flowers Is this a painting or a photograph? Hard to tell, given the image's low resolution. Either way, it's wonderfully composed/captured by an unknown artist Calligraphic rendering of a verse from Azeri poet Shahriar (artist unknown) (1) Beauty in nature and arts: [Left] Beautiful flowers. [Center] Is this a painting or a photograph? Hard to tell, given the image's fairly low resolution. Either way, it's wonderfully composed/captured by an unknown artist. [Right] Calligraphic rendering of a verse from Azeri poet Shahriar (artist unknown).
(2) In the end, Trump may be unseated in 2020 not by his impeachable crimes but by an economic recession, which some economists say is looming.
(3) Michelle Obama's memoir is seen as her second coming as one of the most popular Americans, launching what could become a billion-dollar brand.
(4) Trump-speak dictionary [Cartoon]: Did you know: I just found this out | People are saying: I'm making this up | We'll see what happens: I have no clue | Fake news: This makes me look bad | Believe me: I'm lying
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Nine months after his firing, Tillerson vents about his legal and moral disagreements with Trump.
- Trump's lawyers are drafting response to forthcoming Mueller report.
- John Kelly, no longer on speaking terms with Trump, is expected to resign soon. (CNN)
- Foxification of the Trump administration: The boundary is quite blurred. [Chart source: Washington Post]
- Images of the InSight Mars Lander released by NASA.
- Very close to the dwarf planet Ceres in July, NASA's Dawn spacecraft zoomed in to capture these images.
- Hard to beat this robot in fixing a Rubik's Cube! [Video]
- Yodeling is taken to new heights (pun intended) by this young girl: Wonderful! [Video]
- Tehran, on a rare smog-free day. [Tweet, with photos]
- Persian music: Reza Lotfi and Naser Farhang perform Darvish Khan's "Chahar Mezrab-e Mahoor."
(6) Scam alert: Last week, I received an e-mail message from a professional friend, whom I meet often at conferences, asking me whether I could help him with something. I answered "yes." The reply was a sob story: He was out of the country and his sister had to be hospitalized for emergency surgery, requiring him to pay an up-front fee to the doctor, which he could not do from where he was. I asked the impostor to provide me with a phone number so that I could call to verify his request, stating that I would report him to authorities otherwise. The impostor's next reply, coming from a different address that I did not recognize as belonging to my friend, included an apology, indicating that all was okay with him and that he had been hacked! I cc'ed my real friend on the correspondence, to alert him of the hack and hope to hear from him soon, although if his account has been hacked, the cc's may also go to the impostor!

2018/12/07 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Pond in the city of Rasht, near the Caspian coast, Iran Wonderfully colorful traditional Torkaman wedding ceremony, Iran Street in the central city of Isfahan, Iran, after rain. (1) Beautiful Iran: [Left] Pond in the city of Rasht, near the Caspian coast. [Center] Wonderfully colorful traditional Torkaman wedding ceremony. [Right] Street in the central city of Isfahan, after rain.
(2) Happy 20th anniversary to ISS: On December 7, 1998, the first two International Space Station modules (Unity and Zarya) were joined together, beginning the assembly of the orbital lab.
(3) AP report: Google, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and Qualcomm execs gathered yesterday at the White House "amid strained ties" between the Administration and the tech industry and "an ongoing trade war with China."
(4) Racism: Arizona State Rep. David Stringer is banned from one of the school districts he represents, after suggesting that only white immigrants have been successfully assimilated into American society.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Republican strategist: Trump believes he can make the law go away by tweeting at it.
- Parents who lose children to school shootings develop bonds that transcend ideology and politics. [Image]
- This year's Black Friday set an all-time sales record of $6.22 billion: One-third of it was via smartphones.
- Bad habit: Nuns embezzle half a million dollars from school, spending it on vacations and gambling.
- No cure for HIV has been found yet, but science isn't giving up. [Ad for the company XOXOScience]
- Twitter stats released—Most tweeted-about: Donald Trump. Most "liked" or quoted: Barack Obama
- Persian music: Strong feminist message in a song from a century ago. Here is part of the Persian lyrics.
- A cheerful Azeri song, performed by the Rastak Ensemble with an Azeri guest vocalist. [Video]
(6) NCAA Soccer College Cup semifinals: After the end of my office hours and a couple of oral exams, I walked to Harder Stadium to watch both College Cup semifinals (Akron v. Michigan State and Indiana v. Maryland). The championship match will be played on Sunday at 5:00 PM. Even though UCSB isn't involved this year, we hope to qualify for 2020, when the College Cup returns to Santa Barbara. [Images]
The field at UCSB's Harder Stadium was in tip-top shape, as the first semifinal match between Akron and Michigan State began. [Photos, batch 1] Akron (in white uniforms) scored in the 16th minute, when a wide-open header on a crossed ball bounced off the crossbar and was put in the net by another player. Akron scored again in the 32nd minute on a beautiful header off a corner kick. Akron's goalie saved a couple of near-certain goals in the first half, allowing his team to go into halftime break with a 2-0 lead. Akron opened the second-half scoring in the 53rd minute on a wonderfully-placed free kick from 25 yards out. Akron's fourth goal, on an unassisted run, came in the 65th minute. After some tough luck and valiant saves by Akron's goalie, Michigan State finally got through in the 79th minute, scoring in the skirmish that followed a corner kick. Akron made the final score 5-1, finding the net again on a corner kick in the 85th minute.
The second semifinal match was between Indiana and Maryland. The tournament is being broadcast on one of Fox's sports channels, so TV cameras are present, as are electronic advertising banners, marching bands, and, of course, heavy security. [Photos, batch 2] In a fairly slow, defensive first half, Maryland (in white uniforms) opened the scoring in the 37th minute on a rebound from a corner kick, holding on to its 1-0 lead at halftime. Entering the last 30 minutes of the match, Indiana was energized, trying to even up the score, while Maryland was slowing down the tempo to protect its lead. Maryland scored again in the 80th minute, prevailing 2-0 and earning the right to play Akron on Sunday for the championship. My money is on Akron. [Video snippet]

2018/12/06 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Engineering and its various subareas: Word soup (1) What's in a Discipline's Name? Thoughts on Enrollment Crisis in Electrical Engineering: During our monthly UCSB/ECE faculty lunch of Tuesday 12/04, a lively discussion ensued about the crisis facing the EE discipline, as students migrate to the more "fashionable" computer science/engineering majors. A number of quick fixes were proposed, such as a PR campaign within high schools, to inform students about career possibilities and the attendant social impact for an EE graduate, and rebranding the major by introducing terms of current interest, such as "energy," in the department's name.
In my opinion, the impact of such cosmetic changes will be limited. Many engineering majors are misnamed, because their outdated names emphasize means and gadgets (how things are/were done) rather than end results (what is done). Within the fields of computer science and engineering, this topic has been discussed from time to time, with no clear resolution.
The name "computer science/engineering," for example, emphasizes the means ("computer") rather than the end ("information"). And this is true of the names of the field's most-prominent professional organizations, IEEE Computer Society and Association for Computing Machinery. Imagine names such as "telescope science" for cosmology, "microscope science" for microbiology, "car/vehicle science" for transportation engineering, and "aircraft science" for aerospace engineering! The old name "data processing" is perhaps more descriptive than "computer science," but it is now rather dated. The Europeans' choice of "informatics" turned out to be very forward-looking.
The need for thoughtful and precise naming is also evident for subdisciplines. Careless creation of terminology has brought about various subdiscipline names that to a great extent overlap with one another and lack clear delineation and purpose. Engineers and scientists must be taught and constantly reminded about the importance of a name reflecting the precise content and boundaries of what is being named. We are deluged with new terms such as "cyber-physical systems," "big data," "cloud computing," "fog computing," and "wireless sensor networks," most of which will fade, like so many of their predecessors.
Returning to my original point, what we now call "electrical engineering" at UCSB is really a collection of four subject areas that would be better called "information engineering," "material engineering," "communications engineering," and "control engineering," with each of the four areas overlapping with the activities and specialties in our other engineering departments; Other EE/ECE departments may also be concerned with "energy engineering." Electricity is no longer a defining attribute of these endeavors.
Isn't it time we organized engineering by ends rather than means?
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Mike Pence lies just as readily as Donald Trump, but he is less obvious about it!
- When thugs high-five each other and their stooge watches wistfully, because he's been told not to join in!
- Fatalities and dozens of injuries reported in suicide attack on a police post in the Iranian city of Chabahar.
- Huawei executive arrested by Canadian authorities, on US's request, for violating sanctions against Iran.
- How unsuspecting US veterans were used to funnel money from Saudi Arabia to the Trump Organization.
- Independent press? Fox News' Sean Hannity tells potential witnesses to criminal acts not to talk to FBI.
(3) Michael Flynn court document is the tip of a huge iceberg: His cooperation with Mueller apparently has aided a couple of secret investigations about which we don't know much.

2018/12/05 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover of 'Santa Barbara Independent' about the 2018 College Cup NCAA Soccer Cup 2018 logo Soccer action from a past College Cup (1) NCAA College Cup in Santa Barbara: Even though UCSB is not participating this year (it was eliminated early on), the top four men's soccer teams will be coming to town to play the semifinals (Friday, 12/7, 5:00 PM and 7:45 PM) and the final match (Sunday, 12/9, 5:00 PM). I will be going to all three games. The semifinals pairings are as follows. Akron, which beat Stanford 3-2, will play Michigan State, 2-1 victor over James Madison, at 5:00 PM. In the 7:45 PM match, Indiana, which prevailed over Notre Dame 1-0, will face Maryland, 1-0 victor over Kentucky. This is the second time UCSB hosts the College Cup and will do it again in December 2020 (the 2019 edition will be in Cary, NC). One reason for UCSB being favored by NCAA is its perennially strong soccer program and the large, enthusiastic crowds it attracts from among students and other Santa Barbara residents, shattering NCAA attendance records and gaining UCSB the nickname "Soccer Heaven."
(2) Today's funeral service for George H. W. Bush at Washington Cathedral was very dignified and full of interesting anecdotes and great humor. Perhaps only events like this can bring us Americans together, but we can't wish for more of them. RIP!
(3) ACM 2018 Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct: Almost all professional organizations develop and maintain an ethics code, spelling out the expected behavior of their members. Association for Computing Machinery's previous code, adopted in 1992, is being revised this year. The third draft of the new code is now available for previewing and comments.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- We need to restore faith in science, as the anti-vaxxer movement gains additional adherents.
- Researcher detained in Iran: Mullahs deem scholars in demography and population studies seditionists.
- Cartoon of the day: "People don't grasp the short-term consequences of saving the planet!" [Image]
- East-meets-West music: Casbah Shuffle on sitar, by Ashwin Batish (Sitar Power Band). [14-minute video]
- Ara Malikian performs "Misirlou" (the 1963 song, which was used as the theme of the movie "Pulp Fiction").
- Apt reminder, as we feast during the holidays, to open our hearts and wallets to the needy and the hungry.
- For every problem, there is an ingenious solution: Some methods of opening locked home or car doors.
(5) An unusual day in Goleta: We had periods of wind-driven rain that made an umbrella all but useless. The rain continued, at a gentler pace, as I took this photo of the Devereux Slough in the evening. I had my last classes for the quarter and will be done with teaching after my final exam on Monday and some grading tasks.

2018/12/04 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
An unusually clear view of the SB Channel Islands from the UCSB campus (due to high winds) The top half of the Christmas tree at the Camino Real Marketplace Useful gadget: Video doorbell that records hours of video and communicates with a smartphone app, photographed at Goleta Costco (1) Today in Goleta, CA: [Left] An unusually clear view of the SB Channel Islands from the UCSB campus. [Center] The top half of the Christmas tree at the Camino Real Marketplace. [Right] Useful gadget: Video doorbell that records hours of video and communicates with a smartphone app, photographed at Goleta Costco.
(2) Mind-boggling predictions for the next 7 billion years: Take these 41 predictions with a grain of salt. They range from the Jeddah Tower becoming the tallest building in the world in 2020, through completion of Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid in Tokyo in 2110 and Chernobyl becoming habitable once again in the year 20,000, to the Earth being sucked by a vastly expanded Sun in 7.59 billion years, ending all life as we know it.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Massive ground-beef recall: More than 12M lbs, with "EST. 267" stamped inside the USDA inspection mark.
- Trump cannot win the fight he started against General Motors, says Robert Reich in this opinion piece.
- Trump tries to hijack the Paris protests: He claims the protesters chant that they want Trump!
- Trump inflames or creates problems and later claims credit for half-baked solutions to those problems.
- A least-surprising revelation: MBS ordered and monitored the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
- California's Camp Fire "burns" an insurance company, whose liabilities are nearly three times its assets.
(4) Rising budget deficits during an economic boom: The US budget deficit ballooned after the 2008 crash, to save the economy. Then, it began declining, as the economy improved. Now, despite continued economic growth, deficits are rising, a highly unusual occurrence in good economic times.
(5) A robot in space: The spherical AI robot CIMON aboard the International Space Station communicates with IBM's Watson on Earth, so it can engage with the ISS crew. In one trial, CIMON identified and recognized an astronaut's face, took photos and video, positioned itself autonomously within a module via ultrasonic sensors, and issued instructions for the crew member to perform an experiment.
(6) Kronos Quartet, featuring Mahsa Vahdat: An amazing concert at UCSB's Campbell Hall tonight! [Images] The program, "Music for Change: The Banned Countries," included selections from Azerbaijan, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Mali, and several pieces from Iran, including a Kurdish encore, all arranged in the Quartet's unique musical style. Ms. Vahdat performed some of her own compositions based on poems by Hafez and Mowlavi (Rumi). Video recording was disallowed, so here's similar music from YouTube. [Mahsa Vahdat's "Dorna" and "Avaaz-e Shoushtari"] [Kronos Quartet's "Tiny Desk Concert"]

2018/12/03 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
32-legged robot, built by Japan's Keio and Tokyo Universities Cartoon: Social-media bullying and hate speech are on the rise, thanks to the Bully-and-Insulter-in-Chief! Types of nuts, excluding nuts like me and you! (1) Tech-related images: [Left] This 32-legged robot, built by Japan's Keio and Tokyo Universities, can move in any direction by extending, retracting, and bending its legs. It is ideal for planetary explorations and disaster-zone operations. (Image credit: IEEE Spectrum magazine) [Center] Social-media bullying and hate speech are on the rise, thanks to the Bully-and-Insulter-in-Chief! [Right] Types of nuts, excluding nuts like me and you!
(2) Spelling- and grammar-challenged people aren't safe in cyber-space: Rudy Giuliani failed to insert a space after a period, thus inadvertently creating a link to "G-20.In" within his tweet. Someone claimed that URL and posted a derogatory comment about Trump, to be seen by anyone who clicks on the link! [Tweet image]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Prosecutors say former Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy received laundered foreign money.
- Chelsea Clinton posted this photo of her family with George H. W. Bush, recalling his decency and kindness.
- Humor: "It's now 2018; that's the highest-number year under any president!" ~ Donald John Trump
- Quote: "You don't lead by hitting people over the head—that's assault, not leadership." ~ Dwight Eisenhower
- Persian music: Mahsa Vahdat performs "Dorna" (traditional vocal style in a modern musical framework).
(4) Book review: Gilbert, Elizabeth, The Signature of All Things: A Novel, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Juliet Stevenson, Penguin Audio, 2013. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Cover image for Elizabeth Gilbert's 'The Signature of All Things' With this book, Gilbert returns to fiction, producing another typically delightful book. The characters are so carefully researched and elaborately described that the story, unfolding in the 18th and 19th centuries, reads like a historical treatise.
The central character is Alma, the bright daughter of Henry Whittaker, a man who went from rags (in England) to riches (in Philadelphia). Alma, with her curious mind and insatiable appetite for knowledge, ultimately becomes a botanist and falls in love with Ambrose Pike, another curious soul who is an orchid-painting utopian artist. Alma and Ambrose share a passion for understanding the workings of our world and the wonders of life.
Quite a few other characters and diverse geographic locales appear in the story, adding to its richness, as it explores deep ideas in science, religion, and commerce, and how these notions influenced the course of human history. An enjoyable read that also teaches the reader a great deal!
(5) Final thought for the day: G-mail now offers suggested replies to e-mails you receive ("smart replies"), as if we need to become even more machine-like in our interpersonal communications.

2018/12/02 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Skateboarding in New York City, 1965 Abraham Lincoln's inauguration, 1861 Albert Einstein lecturing on relativity, 1922 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Skateboarding in New York City, 1965 (Credit: Life magazine). [Center] Abraham Lincoln's inauguration, 1861. [Right] Albert Einstein lecturing on relativity, 1922.
(2) Happy Hanukkah to all who observe the Jewish Festival of Light. Hanukkah, which begins tonight, comes around Christmas, but the exact date fluctuates due to Hebrew calendar's lunar year being about 11 days shorter than our solar year. Jewish holidays fluctuate, rather than move throughout the year, because every 2-3 years (7 times in each 19-year cycle, to be exact), an extra month is added to the calendar to put it back in step with the seasons and the Grogorian calendar. There are also occasional one-day adjustments to two other calendar months to prevent certain Jewish holidays from falling on specific days of the week. Therefore, a common Jewish year may have three different lengths: 353, 354, 355 days. The 13-month "leap year" also has three possible lengths: 383, 384, 385 days. TimeandDate.com has an article on "The Jewish Leap Year."
(3) Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is being investigated for sexual misconduct: The alleged conducts are serious, and, if proven true, inexcusable. I like Tyson's wit and his efforts to bring science to the masses. But we can't have different standards for people we like and those we disdain. I will follow up on this story and will post again when I learn more.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Defense Secretary Mattis reveals that there is evidence Putin tried to interfere in our midterm elections.
- Paul Manfort could face more charges, increasing his jail time and the probability of turning against Trump.
- Mexicans outraged: Jared Kushner is awarded Mexico's highest honor, the Order of the Aztec Eagle.
- National Geographic's best photos of 2018 (curated): A feast for you eyes and mind.
- Persian music: The pop duo Andy and Kouros perform "Niloufar" on a concert stage.
- A beautiful performance, with masterful solos, of a piece by Niccolo Paganini at the Venice Carnival.
(5) For-profit conferences: Just like pay-to-publish journals which do little for scientific progress but fill the pockets of their publishers through "open-access publication fees," conferences are proliferating around the world to make money and to generate fake honors for their organizers and scores of people typically included on their technical program committees. By sending e-mails exemplified in the following fragment (copied verbatim from one of the many invitations I receive weekly), they stroke potential participants' egos, often in very poor English, to lure them into submitting papers and paying the conference fees.
"We came across your research work. You are a frontier with a multitude of experience and skill who can offer an in-depth explanation of the advancements and innovations. ... We wish to have your gracious presence as a Speaker to give an Oral presentation at our upcoming, Joint Conference on ..."

2018/12/01 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
An isolated and despised Trump at the G20 Summit Cartoon: He's making a list ... Checking it now ... Gotta find out who's naughty and how ... Robert Mueller's coming to town! New Yorker cartoon: Christmas spirit at the White House (1) Trump-related meme and cartoons: [Left] Trump looked ill-at-ease at the G20 Summit (see item 2 below). [Center] Song of the season: He's making a list ... Checking it now ... Gotta find out who's naughty and how ... Robert Mueller's coming to town! [Right] Christmas spirit at the White House (from The New Yorker).
(2) An isolated and despised Trump at the G20 Summit: Previously, Trump cancelled his meeting with Putin at the G20, blaming Russia's actions in Ukraine. Days after the said actions, until he boarded AF1 to fly to the Summit, he was still saying the two would meet. Only after news broke that Michael Cohen had admitted to lying about his Russia connections did Trump cancel. Now, Trump has cancelled his G20 press conference, citing respect for the Bush family. Since when has he developed this respect? His tweets certainly show no respect for 41, or 43, or 41's other son. Isn't the cancellation due to the fact that he would be asked about Bush, and Putin, and he did not know what to say?
(3) Persian Music: Some early Iranian films were referred to as "aabgooshti movies," because they invariably contained scenes of the protagonist (a man, of course) eating aabgoosht, a popular traditional lamb stew/soup in Iran. Here is a lighthearted song praising aabgoosht and the usual sides that go with it.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- George H. W. Bush, the one-term 41st US President, dies at 94 in Kennebunkport, ME.
- Famous inventions: Dunlop patented the inflatable tire in December 1888 (130 years ago). [Video]
- Some road hazards can be avoided by not driving behind or near vehicles carrying large, awkward loads.
- Humor: One way to force rude young men to yield their seats to a blind girl! [Video]
- Hilarious comedy skit: Conan O'Brien rents a family in Japan and trains the members to laugh at his jokes.
- Mohammad Nouri sings the beautiful oldie "Nazanin-e Maryam" ("Beloved Maryam") in this 9-minute video.
(5) Artificial intelligence is changing the legal industry: Asked whether he could see a day when AI-driven smart machines will assist with courtroom fact-finding or, more controversially even, judicial decision-making, Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts responded: "It's a day that's here and it's putting a significant strain on how the judiciary goes about doing things." This CACM article discusses whether AI judges and juries, with unemotional Vulcan-like reasoning and deduction abilities, are coming to our judicial system.
(6) Tonight's concert by UCSB Middle East Ensemble at Lotte Lehman Concert Hall: The Ensemble is marking its 30th year of activity. The program included Arabic music and dance, along with selections from Armenia, Jewish-Morocco, and Iran. [Photos] The following four videos are represntative of the diverse program.
Video 1: Armenian song/dance, "Khorotik Morotik" ("Flirtatious Love"), with solo vocalist Varduhi Sargsyan.
Video 2: Arabic solo dance, by guest performer Laura Leyl, set to the instrumental composition "Raqs Layla."
Video 3: Armenian song, known as "Sari Aghchik" ("Mountain Girl") or "Vard Sireci" ("I Loved a Rose").
Video 4: Persian dance, choreographed by Shahrzad Khorsandi, set to Mahshid Mirzadeh's "Seh Andarz."

2018/11/30 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Above Valley Falls, West Virginia. Sunset in Izmir, Turkey Bluebell season, England (1) Best Earth Pics: [Left] Above Valley Falls, West Virginia. [Center] Sunset in Izmir, Turkey. [Right] Bluebell season, England.
(2) Missing the good-old days, when small-scale data breaches were considered big news: Now, half a billion Marriott customer accounts are compromised and no one even blinks!
(3) Scientists are trusted to accurately land a craft on Mars but are considered wrong on climate change by a real-estate developer who claims to have a really large brain. [Tweet by Neil deGrasse Tyson]
(4) My home-office: Here is a panoramic view of my study from where I sit at my computer workstation. These photos, taken last night and today, show my study, with a minimalist decorative holiday tree and the two small walls, not covered with bookcases, holding my beloved family photos and various useful maps.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- California communities devastated by the deadliest fire in state's history are now coping with flash floods.
- Magnitude-7.0 earthquake rocks Anchorage, Alaska, causing major infrastructure damage. [CNN video]
- Sheryl Sandberg was indeed involved in ordering dirt-digging on George Soros and other Facebook critics.
- Thinking outside the box: How about putting airbags outside as well as inside cars to make crashes safer?
- Persian music: A tribute slide show to the late Mohammad Nouri, featuring his signature song "Nemisheh."
- Oldest depiction of Jesus discovered in the ruined baptistery of the northern church in desert of Shivta.
(6) The power of suggestion: Payless Shoes conducted a social experiment, creating the "Palessi" fictional brand and marking up their $20-$40 shoes about twenty-fold in a shoe boutique. Customers actually bought the obscenely-priced shoes. They got a refund at the end and also got to keep the shoes. Brilliant marketing!
(7) Final thought for the day: "There are many jobs that you can do, and do them well, while believing that the Earth is flat or 6000 years old, but if these are your beliefs, you should not head NASA or be in Congress." ~ Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, in an interview with PBS, aired tonight on "Firing Line" (not an exact quote; reproduced from memory)

2018/11/29 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Germany, 1930s; Iran, 2010s; America, ? Image from NYT article on dwindling insect populations Cartoon: Striking workers in Iran are seeking, and not getting much, solidarity from their fellow Iranians (1) Iran-related cartoons from Iranwire.com, and another cautionary tale from science: [left] Germany, 1930s; Iran, 2010s; America, ? [Center] Image from NYT article on dwindling insect populations (see item 2 below). [Right] Striking workers in Iran are seeking, and not getting much, solidarity from their fellow Iranians.
(2) Why our car windshields are no longer killing grounds for a vast array of insects? Is it because insect populations are dwindling? A joint study by universities in Denmark and the US recruited 200 Danes to drive through a variety of habitats, with their windshields replaced by nets, to test this hypothesis. It is indeed true that insects have fallen prey to a massive loss of biodiversity on Earth, the so-called "Sixth Extinction." Read the highly detailed account, with ample references to previous studies about the trend and its potential impacts on our lives, in this New York Times article.
(3) Genetically-edited twins born: A Chinese scientist, who claims to have been involved in producing the first human beings (twin baby girls) born with edited genomes, is facing skepticism and criticism. Of course, the feasibility of such a feat isn't in doubt, but ethical considerations had prevented other scientists from attempting gene-editing on humans. It is the background of the Chinese scientist, who had never before presented his work publicly, save for a handful of YouTube videos, that fuels the skepticism.
(4) An interesting account of what's in store for NASA's new Mars lander, before it begins its explorations in a few months, and why it takes so long to get started. [Space.com article]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump is stuck in 19th-century mining/manufacturing jobs, while businesses want to pivot toward high-tech.
- Trump floats the idea of pardoning Manafort; others doubt he'd be willing to pay the huge political cost.
- Trump's former attorney/fixer admits to lying to Congress about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Russia.
- Apt response to Trump's "I don't believe it" reaction to his administration's climate-change impact report.
- At last: Heavy rain in Santa Barbara! [Photos, from Thursday, November 29]
(6) These figures (with captions) from an article published in the October 2018 issue of IEEE Computer tell an interesting story about how women have been viewed/treated in computing, to the detriment of our country. [Citation: Hicks, Marie, "When Winning Is Losing: Why the Nation that Invented the Computer Lost Its Lead," IEEE Computer, Vol. 51, No. 10, pp. 48-57, October 2018.]

2018/11/28 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Trump and evangelicals: Strange bedfellows (cartoon) Trump to Merkel: 'You guys in Berlin had a terrific wall.' (Cartoon)  Meme of the day: Clown Prince Donald bin Fred al Trump (1) Trump-related humor: [Left] Trump and evangelicals: Strange bedfellows. [Center] Trump to Merkel: "You guys in Berlin had a terrific wall." [Right] Meme of the day: Clown Prince Donald bin Fred al Trump.
(2) Robots to the rescue: Walking and swimming robots are used to investigate Fukushima's failed reactors to find out where the fuel (lethal for centuries) has gone. The robots help produce 3D virtual-reality models of the reactors' insides for humans to explore. The site has turned into a robotics research laboratory. [CBS report]
(3) Whose life was ruined? Brett Kavanaugh sits on the Supreme Court and has gone back to coaching girls' basketball. Christine Blasey-Ford continues to receive death threats.
(4) Disdain for science: Donald Trump and his press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismiss the findings of a climate report issued over the Thanksgiving weekend, based on the work of 300 scientists and 13 federal agencies. We have a President who acts as his own economic adviser, climate scientist, and diplomatic corps!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- US midterm election results were a mixed bag for science: A number of senior, experienced lawmakers who were champions of research funding were ousted.
- Thin-skinned President walks away when fact-checked by a CBS reporter.
- Shahrzad Nazifi, a Baha'i and the first female motocross champion in Iran, has been arrested.
- The Age of Megafires: A prophetic report, first aired 11 years ago by CBS newsmagazine "60 Minutes"!
- A wonderful performance of "Despacito" by a piano-cello duo.
- Amazon patents an airbag that is inflated by a drone before dropping a package for delivery.
- This 2-year-old time-lapse video from NASA shows the disappearing arctic ice over the period 1991-2016.
- Most-dangerous countries to visit: I was surprised to learn that nearly all parts of Iran are rated very safe.
(6) To Kill a Mockingbird: The beloved novel is becoming a Broadway play for a modern audience, to open in December, 58 years after the book was published and 56 years after the release of a successful movie based on it. Jeff Daniels will play attorney Atticus Finch, the role that earned Gregory Peck an Oscar. [CBS report]

2018/11/27 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Poster: Stop violence against women! The art of rock-balancing: A giant foot Breaking the chains, on the way to freedom (1) An important cause, and some art: [Left] The most dangerous place for women is home: More than half of worldwide female murder victims last year were killed by their partners or family members, according to a new UN report. [Center] The art of rock-balancing: Giant foot in Zurich, Switzerland (artist unknown; photographed by Ms. Shirin Dabir). [Right] Breaking the chains, on the way to freedom.
(2) Cities used to burn to the ground all the time until the 1920s: Then, we started to do the equivalent of vaccination by developing fire codes and using fire-resistant building materials. Once cities stopped burning, we grew complacent and wavered in strict enforcement of fire codes. It's time to go back to the drawing board and use the knowledge we have gained to avoid another Paradise-like catastrophe.
(3) WSJ Econ 101: Trump boasts that his new tariffs are pouring money into the US coffers, not knowing, or conveniently forgetting, that those same tariffs lead to higher prices, a form of regressive tax on all Americans.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Major snowstorm causes thousands of flight cancellations in United States' Midwest region.
- Firing of tear gas and closing of US entry escalate the crisis at US-Mexico border.
- Magnitude-6.3 quake in Iran, centered near Sarpol-e Zahab, injures hundreds in Kermanshah and vicinity.
- The prophetic film "Network" comes to the stage: Artistic version of "Fake News" by playwright Lee Hall!
- Humor: When the pool's on-duty lifeguard has to take a bathroom break! [Video]
- Azeri music: Wonderful song performed by the Rastak Ensemble, accompanied by a guest singer. [Video]
- Persian music: Two young girls perform (violin and vocals) the oldie song "Simin Bari" on a street in Tehran.
- Persian Music: Beautiful oldie, performed with smiles and joy. The performers are unknown to me. [Video]
(5) "First Man," a "Script to Screen" presentation at UCSB's Pollock Theater: The acclaimed 2018 film, telling the story of America's space program in the decade leading to the 1969 moon landing, was screened tonight, followed by a moderated discussion with its Oscar-winning screenwriter Josh Singer. The film is based on James R. Hansen's book by the same title. The film's central character is Neil Armstrong. Even though there is admirable attention to technical details, with eye-popping special effects, the real focus of the film is the emotional travails of Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling), as well as other astronauts and their families, when faced with intensive training and high-risk space missions. A flyer along with a few pages of the screenplay were distributed to the audience. [Images]

2018/11/26 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
(1) Mars landing: After its 7-month journey from Earth and 7-minute descent through the Martian atmosphere, the landing module of NASA's InSight Probe touched down on Mars just before noon, PST, today. A manned mission to Mars for the 2030s is said to be in planning stages. [Video]
(2) US State Department report: Khashoggi's problems first arose not because he criticized Saudi leaders, but because he criticized Donald Trump. This explains Trump's weak reaction to the gruesome killing.
(3) Informatics Society of Iran (ISI) turns 40: This momentous anniversary was celebrated last Wednesday, 2018/11/21, in Tehran. As the lead founder of the Society in 1978 and its President for the first 5 years of its existence, I was asked to send a special message to its members. [2-minute Persian video message]
This Google Drive contains a number of videos related to Informatics Society of Iran's 40th-anniversary celebration. Titles of and inks to individual MP4 Persian-language videos on the drive follow. [Introducing ISI] [Message from Dr. Parhami] [ISI Teaser] [ISI Reminiscences] [ISI Activities]
(4) Applying ML & NLP at Google Ads: This was the title of a talk by Dr. Kazoo Sone (Google software engineer) on machine learning and natural-language processing, as applied at Google Ads.
Dr. Sone discussed the difficulties of supervised learning, in view of its need for vast amounts of labeled data. Even though it appears that Google does enjoy access to vast amounts of data, the portion of the data that is labeled is often inadequate for training strong supervised learning models. Using examples from quality improvement efforts for search ads, Dr. Sone described some of Google's challenges and experiences, both from the machine-learning perspective and the NLP research that links an ad's performance to its writing style, particularly what words in ads influence our decision-making. [Some slides]
One annoying feature of such talks is that a lot of buzzwords are thrown around and claims made, with little technical depth. This is a direct consequence of companies wanting to hold on to technical know-how for fear of rivals using the knowledge, which is utterly incompatible with a university's mission to spread knowledge.
(5) UCSB Faculty Research Lecture: Each year, a UCSB colleague is honored as Faculty Research Lecturer and tasked with delivering a public lecture to describe his/her leading-edge discoveries to the campus community. The 2018 honoree, my ECE colleague Professor Umesh K. Mishra, spoke at Corwin Pavilion this afternoon under the title "Thank God for Gallium Nitride."
The development of blue and white LEDs by Nobel Laureate and UCSB colleague Shuji Nakamura generated much excitement about Gallium Nitride (GaN), whose applications have spread beyond general lighting to lasers, horticulture, and electronics. Hybrid and electric vehicles, data servers, solar inverters, robotics, gaming, and communications across a large band of interests are all being served by GaN in important ways.
Professor Mishra described his research results on GaN and its varied applications, characterizing it as the miracle material that keeps on giving. Borrowing a phrase from former President Obama, the speaker ended his talk with the slogan "Yes We GaN"! [Some slides]

2018/11/25 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Isfahan City Festival, Iran: Photo 1 Isfahan City Festival, Iran: Photo 2 Isfahan City Festival, Iran: Photo 3 Isfahan City Festival, Iran: Photo 4 Isfahan City Festival, Iran: Photo 5 Isfahan City Festival, Iran: Photo 6 (1) Isfahan Festival: Locals don traditional costumes and demonstrate arts/crafts for which Isfahan is famous.
(2) About town on a beautiful sunny Sunday: Having lunch with the kids at Hamburger Habit in Isla Vista, photographing the birds of the US Pacific Coast at Campus Poing Beach and UCSB Lagoon, and capturing the beauty of the southeastern end of the UCSB campus in photos and a 1-minute video.
(3) Beautiful Iran: This time-lapse video captures Isfahan's sights and culture. By the number of items I have posted about Isfahan, you can probably tell that I have an Isfahani friend feeding me videos and other posts about the historic city!
(4) Music/dance video: This French tune entitled "Natalie" was quite popular in Iran during my youth. In it, the singer reminisces about a beautiful guide he had when he visited Moscow's Red Square.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Saudi Arabia joins Trump in spreading doubts about CIA's credibility.
- Words and actions from "The Lion King" versus "The Lying King": Some similarities. [Video]
- Hi-tech transportation: The airplane that transports airplanes! [Video]
- Lo-tech transportation: Transporting sheep on a bicycle! [Video]
- Quote: "When you feel dog-tired at night, it may be because you've growled all day long." ~ Anonymous
- Final thought for the day: "There are as many martyrs for bad causes as for good ones." ~ Anonymous

2018/11/24 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Our perfect-attendance photo with all 18 family members present, taken today as part of Thanksgiving-weekend gathering (1) Perfect-attendance photo with all family members present, taken today as part of Thanksgiving gathering.
- My mom, the 89-year-old family matriarch, with all of her 7 grandkids and both great-grandkids. [Photo]
- My mom photographed separately with each of her 4 children, alongside his/her family. [Photo collection]
(2) With light-weight material, spraying particles into the Earth's atmosphere or installing space reflectors may prove feasible in a decade or two for slowing down global warming.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Anti-government protests turn violent in Paris: Police fires tear gas into the crowd. [Images]
- Chilling repetition of history: The "failing" New York Times was at it, spreading "Fake News," 80 years ago.
- Subject explains global warming to know-it-all King. [Tweet images]
- IEEE uses a photo from its Iran Section (or is it Turkey?) in its campaign to attract more student members.
- Quote of the day: "To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved." ~ George Macdonald
- "My warning about social media has had 50,000 retweets." [Cartoon credit: E&T magazine, Nov. 2018]
(4) Serendipitous learning: The freshman seminar I teach this quarter meets in UCSB's Humanities and Social Sciences Building. Walking to class and having a few minutes to kill one day last week, I looked at a few posters on the hallway's walls. This particular poster reports on a study that demonstrates positive correlation between milk DHA levels and PISA math scores in 26 nations, once statistically controlled for per-capita GDP.
(5) Final thought for the day: "Never try to reason the prejudice out of a man. It was not reasoned into him, and cannot be reasoned out." ~ Sydney Smith

2018/11/23 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Woke up to a sunny post-Thanksgiving Friday, with gorgeous blue skies: Nothing black about it! Mount Damavand, a dormant volcano which is Iran's tallest peak, shot from Poloor by an anonymous friend My daughter's apple-pie creation for Thanksgiving (1) Beauty, natural and human-made: [Left] Woke up to a sunny post-Thanksgiving Friday, with gorgeous blue skies: Nothing black about it! [Center] Mount Damavand, a dormant volcano which is Iran's tallest peak, shot from Poloor by an anonymous friend. [Right] My daughter's apple-pie creation for Thanksgiving.
(2) The Bully-in-Chief hears back from many Twitter users about his stance that lower oil prices are more important than holding Saudi Arabia accountable for its crimes. [Tweet image]
(3) Advice to MBS: Don't delude yourself that you are safe because Trump stands by you and even thanks you! The American people and the rest of the world will hold you accountable.
(4) Iran's Mountain-Climbing Association (a government entity) has announced that women need permission from their husbands or male guardians before going hiking or climbing.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- CIA may have recording of MBS ordering the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
- The lies continue to pile up! [Trump lied when he said CIA didn't link Saudi Prince to Khashoggi killing."]
- Deadly wildfires, hurricanes, and heat waves, already battering the United States, will worsen over time.
- Isaac Larian: Man who left the Iran's slums as a teen now runs one of America's biggest toy companies.
- iPad magic: There are quite a few digital-magic-trick videos like this one on the Internet.
- Quote: "A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel good." ~ Comedian Steven Wright
(6) Facebook knew about Russians interfering in US election more than a year before publicly admitting it: Then it hired a PR firm to control the damage and dig dirt on critics.
(7) Trump calls reports about his displeasure with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin "Fake News," adding that they never ask him about such cases, because it would ruin their stories.
No, Donald; they don't ask you because you lie!
(8) Beliefs of Brits and British Christians: The only subject about which Brits as a whole are more positive than the Christians among them is alien-life/UFOs. On karma and magic, there is little difference between Brits and British Christians. [Chart from E&T magazine, issue of November 2018]

2018/11/22 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
John Wayne at 23 years old, 1930 The Beatles, on stage in Paris, 1965 Young Clint Eastwood, undated photo (1) Film and music history in pictures: [Left] John Wayne at 23 years old, 1930. [Center] The Beatles, on stage in Paris, 1965. [Right] Young Clint Eastwood, undated photo.
(2) Happy Thanksgiving Day to all my family members and friends, especially to my three children. May you all have an abundance of things for which to be thankful and may our relationships and friendships have better fates than the Thanksgiving-Day turkey! [Image]
(3) It's official now: The 2018 US midterm election results saw Republicans suffer the worst House defeat in US history. [Source: Newsweek magazine]
(4) Jeff Sessions is no hero: It's tempting to praise Sessions, because he stood up to Trump on certain issues and was bullied by him. But examining his record as AG leaves no doubt that he is a regressive individual living in the past and wanting to reverse decades of US civil rights gains.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Samsung is investing heavily on its foldable smartphone: Apple is sure to follow suit. [Source: Newsweek]
- Iran exevutes the "Gold-Coins King": He must have stepped on the toes of other grand thieves! [Cartoon]
- Teachers' strike in Iran leads to a wave of arrests.
- Female singers, who are banned by Iran's government, hold underground concerts through acquaintances.
(6) Chief of Staff John Kelly accused Fox News' Jeanine Pirro of "inflaming an already vexed Trump," when she told him in the Oval Office that he should get the DoJ to investigate H. Clinton for the Uranium One deal.
(7) Pot calling the kettle black: Turkish officials have condenmned the "comical" Trump stance on MBS. Of course, Turkey scarecely has a better human-rights record than Saudi Arabia.
(8) Persian music: Much of the pre-Islamic-Revolution music and other art forms are no longer shown on Iran's state TV, but people recuperate and cherish them in private gatherings and, when they can, on the streets.
(9) Persian music: Hossein Khajeh-Amiri, aka Iraj, and Salar Aghili perform "Aavaay-e Iran" ("The Voice of Iran") in this 6-minute video production sponsored by the Export Bank of Iran. [Other credits in the video]

2018/11/21 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
More heart-wrenching scenes from November 2018 California wildfires: Photo 1 More heart-wrenching scenes from November 2018 California wildfires: Photo 2 More heart-wrenching scenes from November 2018 California wildfires: Photo 3 (1) Three more heart-wrenching photos from November 2018 California wildfires.
(2) Advice about tech and social media: People sound tough and in control, but they are scared and confused behind the fake facade. We should take control of our lives back from constant distraction by non-stop connectivity. [10-minute video, with Persian subtitles]
(3) Middle-age American men are threatened more by loneliness than by consequences of obesity or smoking: A 2017 Boston Globe article, expertly translated into Persian by Farnaz Seifi.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump wanted to order the DoJ to prosecute H. Clinton and J. Comey, but his lawyers wouldn't comply.
- A new breed of legislators arrive in Washington, ready to swim with and defeat swamp creatures! [Tweet]
- Report: Religion is blamed for violence against women. Me: Duh! [Source: Newsweek magazine]
- Cartoon of the day: Natural disasters hit California! [Image]
- Pinpointing one of our dilemmas: "Knowledge is power. Ignorance is bliss. Tough choice!" ~ Anonymous
- Humor: Perils of traveling abroad without knowing the local language. [1-minute video]
- Santa Barbara in late November: Today, on the east side of the UCSB Campus. [Photos]
- Fortune cookies have been giving me wonderful advice of late: "Delight in a friend's success." [Images]
(5) Quote of the day: "The myth holds that Trump is a tough guy who fights back. In fact, he is a fragile man running out of safe places to hide." ~ Author and CNN commentator Michael D'Antonio
(6) The Holiday Season is upon us and, with it, come holiday scams followed by tax scams (fraudulently filing your taxes and getting your refund). Be particularly vigilant with your charity donations over the next month, as scammers position themselves to take advantage of the holiday spirit.
(7) Human-rights report: Saudi Arabia electrocuted, flogged, and sexually abused female activists. Meanwhile, on the eve of Thanksgiving Day, Trump has indicated that he is grateful to Saudis for helping lower oil prices. How low have we sunk as a nation to thank murderous thugs for saving us a few cents on a gallon of gas?
(8) Trump attacks the judiciary again: "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges." ~ Chief SCOTUS Justice John Roberts, after Trump berated a judge as "an Obama Judge" (Trump dismissed Roberts comments in subsequent tweets)

2018/11/20 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Example of devastation from California wildfires Brexit commemorative 50p coin Humor: Californians take Trump's suggestions to heart! (1) Reality and some political humor: [Left] Example of devastation from California wildfires. [Center] Brexit commemorative 50p coin. [Right] Preventing wildfires: Californians take Trump's suggestions to heart!
(2) After dissing the late Senator John McCain for being captured, bone-spurs Donnie attacks highly decorated retired Admiral William McRaven for not killing Osama Bin Laden sooner. Are our military leaders asleep? Why are they putting up with this nonsense?
(3) Quote of the day: "The old cliche about laughter being the best medicine turns out to be true, which is good because that's what the current administration is trying to replace Obamacare with." ~ Julia Louis-Dreyfus, while accepting the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in October 2018
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Private e-mail account: Let's recycle Trump's old tweets, with Hilary Clinton replaced by Ivanka Trump.
- WH staff is bracing for tweetstorms during Trump's unsupervised time at Mar-a-Lago over Thanksgiving.
- Alarm bells go off as a Kremlin-backed Russian becomes one of two nominees to run Interpol.
- CDC issues an unusually broad warning against eating romaine lettuce in any form and from any source.
- Cartoon Collections: If you like New Yorker's cartoons, this Web site, has many of those, and more.
- I have been following this fortune-cookie advice for several years now and it seems to be working!
- Beautiful Azeri music and dance: No info about performers or venue. [4-minute video]
- Iranian Music: Sepidar Ensemble performs Qajar-era music in a historic palace setting. [27-minute video]
(5) Because of his hatred toward Iran, Trump stands by murderous MBS: "In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran."
(6) It's now certain the WH Chief of Staff John Kelly will be replaced: Ivanka, Jared, and Trump's two sons have their favorite (Mike Pence's young Chief of Staff), but Kelly has his supporters among WH insiders too.

2018/11/19 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Multi-player computer game from the 1990s Fireman's bicycle, 1905 Car hi-fi system, 1960 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Multi-player computer game from the 1990s. [Center] Fireman's bicycle, 1905. [Right] Car hi-fi system, 1960s.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Mitch McConnell takes hypocrisy to the next level by accusing Democrats of partisan politics. [Quotes]
- Leaked SMS texts from an insecure Voxox server exposed password resets and two-factor codes.
- Persian Music: A beautiful performance of the golden oldie "Beh Esfahan Ro" ("Go to Isfahan").
- This little girl won't let no freaking pigeon take away food that is hers! [1-minute video]
- Tehran University's College of Engineering is utterly inaccessible to wheelchair-bound individuals. [Image]
- Drivers helping a man who seems to have car trouble are pleasantly surprised!
- Good for a chuckle: What did the janitor say when he jumped out of the closet? ... Supplies!
- Cartoon of the day, as we approach Thanksgiving: "No giblets, but there's an organ-donor card." [Image]
The bulletin board outside my UCSB office, updated today with cover images of my existing and forthcoming books (3) Bulletin board outside my UCSB office, updated today with cover images of my published and forthcoming books.
(4) Concealed Online: For-profit pro-gun entity that was among the biggest spenders on Facebook political ads during the 2018 US midterm elections.
(5) Black Friday: A day when Americans trample others to get to on-sale items, exactly one day after giving thanks for all the things they have.
(6) Translated into English from a church posting in France: If you want to talk to God, enter, choose a quiet place, and talk to Him. If you want to see Him, send him a text message while driving.
(7) Quote of the day: "The course of history is directed by the choices we make and our choices grow out of the ideas, the beliefs, the values, the dreams of the people. It is not so much the powerful leaders that determine our destiny as the much more powerful influence of the combined voice of the people themselves." ~ Eleanor Roosevelt, writing shortly before her 1962 passing
(8) Newsletter headline, referring to NYT story that Harvard, Stanford, and other universities want to address tech's ethical dark side: Universities Look to Bring "Medicine-Like Morality to Computer Science." Me: Oh no!

2018/11/18 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Trump's presidency is in many ways similar to Nixon's, with the crookedness vastly amplified MAGA wall-building block set Trump toilet-cleaning brush (1) Trump-related designs: [Left] Trump's presidency is in many ways similar to Nixon's, with the crookedness vastly amplified. [Center] MAGA wall-building block set. [Right] Trump toilet-cleaning brush.
(2) And now, some humor from the man-child in the White House: "The White House is running very smoothly and the results for our Nation are obviously very good. We are the envy of the world. But anytime I even think about making changes, the FAKE NEWS MEDIA goes crazy, always seeking to make us look as bad as possible! Very dishonest!" ~ DJT tweet
(3) Look who's giving lessons on decorum: Trump has said that he'll walk out of press conferences if reporters are rude to him. Perhaps reporters should reciprocate the next time he says "What a stupid question"!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Northern California fire death toll now at 71, with ~1000 missing. The area has world's worst air quality.
- Devastating fire in SoCal's Malibu area stopped moving westward only when it reached the Pacific Ocean.
- Horse survived California wildfire by taking shelter in a pool: It was shivering uncontrollably when rescued.
- More than 200 mass graves found in areas of Iraq formerly controlled by ISIS, according to a UN report.
- Saudi Arabia beheads Indonesian maid for killing her boss as he was raping her.
- Someone who voted at the last minute is smiling: Democrat wins Kentucky House race by a single vote!
(5) The Metric System redefined: On Friday, October 16, 2018, representatives from 60 different countries voted unanimously to rid the Metric System of its dependence on physical objects, such as the platinum-iridium cylinder (stored under lock and key in France) that defined the kilogram. Everything is now defined in terms of fundamental constants of nature, making the units more accurate and easily reproducible, even on Mars.
(6) "Leave No Trace": In this 2018 movie, screened at UCSB's Pollock Theater as part of the "Script to Screen" series on Saturday 11/17, a man (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, offering a superb performance) have lived off the grid, in a forest near Portland, Oregon, for years. The father is a PTSD-suffering veteran who wants to be on his own. The daughter accompanies him, despite yearning for a social life and a phone! Their idyllic life is shattered, when both are placed into social services and taken to live on a farm. After clashing with their new surroundings, the pair set off on a harrowing journey back to their wild homeland. The early part of the film is based on the true story of a man and a young girl brought in from their forest dwelling. Peter Rock turned it into the novel My Abandonment, on which the movie is based. The film screening was followed by a moderated discussion with Director/Co-Writer Debra Granik. [Images]
(7) UCSB Faculty Artist Recital: World-renowned flutist and Music Department Professor Jill Felber performed at Karl Geiringer Hall, accompanied by the Nexus String Quartet [Program/bios/photos]. An enjoyable performance in an intimate setting; one of the perks of working at a major university with wonderful artists and arts departments. A variation from the first piece on the program, a composition for flute and string quartet by composer/pianist Amy Marcy Cheney Beach [1867-1944], is captured in this 1-minute video. A short sample from Mozart's String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, K. 465, "Dissonance," performed by the Nexus String Quartet appears in this 2-minute video.

2018/11/17 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
(1) Book review: Moshfegh, Ottessa, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Julia Whelan, Penguin Audio, 2018. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Cover image for Ottessa Moshfegh's 'My Year of Rest and Relaxation' This novel is set in the year 2000, when an anti-social twenty-something woman, fired from her job and with an inheritance to sustain her, decides to cut off from the world and lead a drug-addled existence pent-up in her apartment. Moshfegh has received a great deal of attention for this novel and other works.
The novel isn't just about the protagonist's year of rest and relaxation, but has flashbacks to other parts of her life. Moshfegh's story comes across as the whinings of an entitled young woman. After a few chapters, one gets tired of the repeated recitation of the lists of pills the young woman took, and descriptions of her disjointed states after she woke up from long sleeps. One can't help but wonder how the protagonist could remember all those details, when her mind was fogged up.
On the positive side, the writing is extremely good. Moshfegh seems to have a natural flair for the English language, and I hope to someday read other works from her that are a bit more consequential.
(2) This 1-minute audio clip is said to be the oldest recording of Iranian diva Googoosh, showcasing her talent at a very young age and demonstrating why she is still going strong at age 68.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Investigation report: The Florida International University bridge that collapsed in March had design errors.
- Seven women file a $70 million lawsuit against Dartmouth for shielding sexual predators.
- First cartoon of the day: "It's going to be a long couple of years." [Image]
- Second cartoon of the day: "Now, that's a representative parliament!" [Image]
- Oxford English Dictionary's Word of the Year for 2018: "Toxic" [Here is the shortlist]
- Flash-mob: Heart-warming performance at Isfahan's city center, Iran, despite not being very refined.
- Daf-playing Zoroastrians celebrate the Pomegranate Festival in Mobarakeh Village, Taft County, Yazd, Iran.
- Jorja Smith's moving performance of "Don't Watch Me Cry" on Stephen Colbert's late-night show.
(4) IBM's US supercomputers take the top 2 spots on the latest list of the world's top-500 supercomputers. Five of the top-10 entries are from the US, but China extends its presence on the list. In way of comparison, last November's list included two Chinese supercomputers at the top, followed by Swiss and Japanese machines, with the United States' first appearance being at the 5th spot.
(5) Final thought for the day: "Small, scared people hate, self-hating people hate, bullied and betrayed people hate, as though hate will make them large and safe and strong." ~ Nancy Gibbs, writing in Time magazine, issue of November 12, 2018, carrying the cover feature "Beyond Hate" [Cover image]

2018/11/16 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Jean-Leon Gerome's famous 1877 painting 'The Carpet Merchants' Jean-Leon Gerome's painting, 'The Whirling Dervishes' Jean-Leon Gerome's painting, 'The Blue Mosque' (1) Three magical paintings by Jean-Leon Gerome (cropped into square format): [Left] A Persian Carpet being admired in Cairo: "The Carpet Merchants" [Center] "The Whirling Dervishes" [Right] "The Blue Mosque"
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- November 16: Happy International Day for Tolerance! [Logo]
- California fires: More than 60 are dead and ~600 are still missing. Utilities scrutinized for fire cause.
- MBS ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, CIA has concluded.
- Facebook hired a firm to attack Soros and other critics: Zuckerberg and Sandberg claim they didn't know.
- Orange County becomes Blue County: Republicans lose a CA enclave won over for the party by Reaganites.
- Iran says it will step up to fill the void created by US assets based in Italy being sent to fight ISIS.
- Japan follows Trump's appointments strategy: Its cybersecurity minister has never used a computer!
- One year after the 7.5 quake in northwestern Iran, people are still living in precarious conditions. [Cartoon]
Impossible object, made of Lego blocks (3) On social paradoxes: Paradoxes and impossibility results in mathematics have counterparts in social sciences. The paradox of freedom, formulated by Karl Popper in 1945, goes like this: "Freedom, in the sense of absence of any constraining control, must lead to very great restraint, since it makes the bully free to enslave the meek." The paradox of tolerance is similar: "Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance." The restraint that goes with freedom is being put to the test as I write this note. Social media are banning certain users for abusive behavior, despite US Internet Legislation Section 230 categorizing such media as "platforms," which are immune from liability for the content they publish.
(4) This week's Santa Barbara Independent has a fascinating cover story about our city's history. Photos show: The 700 block of State Street, ca. 1883; SB Mission, 1880s: Navigational error causing 7 US Navy destroyers running aground, Sept. 8, 1923; Hotel Californian, after the earthquake of June 29, 1925.
(5) Anti-Semitism: Drunk man shouts "Heil Hitler, Heil Trump" during a performance of "Fiddler on the Roof" in Baltimore. He must be a leftist or undocumented immigrant, set to tarnish Trump and his administration!
(6) Concert at UCSB's Campbell Hall tonight: The musical program by the Estonian Chamber Choir, viewed by some as the finest in the world, and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra was a component of Estonia 100, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Estonia's independence from the Russian Empire. [Promotional video for the Choir]

2018/11/15 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. Cover image of 'Catching Fire: Hunger Games, Book 2'
(1) Book review: Collins, Susanne, Catching Fire: Hunger Games, Book 2, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Carolyn McCormick, Scholastic Audio, 2009.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book is the second volume in the "Hunger Games" trilogy. Having seen the first two parts of the series as 2012 movies, I decided to also check out the second part in book form, which I liked much better. The third volume in the series was released as a 2-part movie in 2014 and 2015.
Victors of the 74th Hunger Games, Catniss Everdeen (played in the movie version by Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark, are sent on a Victors Tour to quell uprisings in the districts, attributed to Everdeen's actions (not killing Mellark, as required by the Games' single-victor rule), which were widely viewed as defiance against the Capitol and President Snow. Soon thereafter, word arrives that the victors' lifetime exemption from further participation in the gladiator-like fighting competition has been revoked and that the Games' 75th edition will in fact feature only previous victors, a kind of Celebrity Hunger Games, if you will.
Action-packed stories generally do not translate well to the screen. Some elements of the action scenes are enhanced by visuals, but these visuals are often overdone and come across as even less realistic than the books' versions. There is something to be said about a reader reconstructing and visualizing a scene and the action in it from the author's detailed description, and Collins does a great job of putting the reader in the middle of the action.
As a "young adult" title, the story of Catching Fire isn't subtle or sophisticated. There are a few surprises along the way, but events are, by and large, rather predictable. It was an enjoyable summer read for me, but I will likely not pursue the third book in the series, or its 2-part film version.
(2) Iranians from all walks of life sing "Morgh-e Sahar," an old favorite, while flashing messages of love to the self-exiled popular singer Mohammad-Reza Shajarian.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- California wildfires have claimed 50 lives as of 11/14: Rampant looting has been reported in affected areas.
- Decision time for Democrats who want to enter the 2020 presidential race is fast approaching!
- Iranian folk music: Wonderful multi-lingual song, likely from southeastern Iran.
- What would you do if the glass surface of a pedestrian bridge cracked under your feet as you crossed?
(4) A Twitter account, set up by fans of Prince Babak Qajar, tweets (in Persian) about his right to form a government should monarchy return to Iran, because the "fake prince" (that is, Reza Pahlavi) comes from a dynasty which assumed power illegitimately. I am just reporting this discovery of mine, without suggesting that the claim is anything but an attempt at humor/entertainment. [Tweet images]
(5) Machine learning should move into the computer science undergraduate curricula: Traditionally, the focus of CS education has been precision and full control of algorithms (e.g., via a small number of well-understood parameters). AI has necessitated a change in this attitude. Machine learning brings with it a much larger number of poorly-understood parameters to our computational processes, thereby making logical proofs of correctness all but impossible. Instead of correctness proof, computer scientists must learn to deal with statistical demonstration of effectiveness.

2018/11/14 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Botanic gardens in Karaj, near Tehran, Iran, photo 1 Botanic gardens in Karaj, near Tehran, Iran, photo 2 Botanic gardens in Karaj, near Tehran, Iran, photo 3 Botanic gardens in Karaj, near Tehran, Iran, photo 4 Botanic gardens in Karaj, near Tehran, Iran, photo 6 Botanic gardens in Karaj, near Tehran, Iran, photo 5 (1) Colorful flowers, greenery, and a waterfall at the Botanic gardens in Karaj, near Tehran, Iran.
(2) Sharing my brief technical bio in Persian, prepared for a special commemorative album being compiled by the Alumni Association to honor the graduates of 50 years ago at College of Engineering, University of Tehran (pish-kesvataan-e daaneshkadeh-ye Fanni). [Includes 5-decades-old and recent photos]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- NYer cartoon: "Say what you will about 2018, I haven't been kept awake at night by the same fear twice."
- Tech and AI can help with early detection of fires and predtiction of the way they might spread.
- Quote: "Accuse the other side of that which you are guilty." ~ Jospeh Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister
- One of the most remarkable magic acts I have ever seen: I know how he did it, but it still amazes me.
- I miss Trump's daily updates on the status of the caravan of migrants!
- Today's World Music Series noon concert at UCSB featured UCSB's Gamelan Ensemble. [Photo] [Video]
(4) The snipping tool (Microsoft Windows tip): Sometimes, the easiest way to copy an image is from its displayed form on the screen. Windows has a "PrtSc" (print screen) command that captures the entire screen image, even if it extends over multiple monitors, which you can later copy into Paint or other apps. I have been doing this for ages, which required extra steps to crop the large image to get the part that I needed. A couple of days ago, I discovered the snipping tool (on Windows 10, you can type "snipping tool" into the Windows search box to locate the tool), which allows you to select particular screen areas to copy, saving much work.
(5) Misleading insurance commercials: Nearly all insurance commercials contain false or misleading claims, but three recent ones on TV ticked me off, because they take the deception to another level. One company claims that they will replace a totaled car, rather than pay the depreciated price (current value) of the car. But it does not mention that the insurance policy with replacement feature costs more. Another commercial tries to sell you on their "accident forgiveness" feature, again without any mention that policies with that forgiveness feature cost more. You are essentially paying the higher post-accident premium (pro-rated for risk) right now, so that your premium won't go up after an accident! A third, doomsday commercial says that a 500-year storm should occur once every 500 years, but we have had 26 of them over the past decade. This is like saying a birthday should occur once per year, but in our family alone, we have had two dozen birthdays already this year!

2018/11/13 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The human faces of California wildfires, photo 1 The human faces of California wildfires, photo 2 Iranian woman and girl wistfully watch from a nearby hill a soccer match played at a stadium from which they are banned (1) Newsworthy images: [Left and center] The human faces of California wildfires. [Right] Iranian woman and girl wistfully watch from a nearby hill a soccer match played at a stadium from which they are banned.
(2) Actress Kathleen Turner, 64, on sexism and ageism: "I got sent a screenplay once where the character was described as '37 but still attractive.' That pissed me off."
(3) An embarrassment of a President: Confusing the Balkans and the Baltics, Trump has blamed the leaders of Baltic states in northern Europe, on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea, for starting the war in southeastern Europe's the Balkans, which encompasses Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia.
(4) Accelerated evolution: Under poaching pressure, elephants are evolving to lose their tusks, because not having tusks increases their survival probability. [Source: National Geographic]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will likely be the next Trump cabinet member to be fired.
- Kyrsten Sinema becomes the first Democrat to win an Arizona US Senate seat in 30 years.
- Death toll from California wildfires, now standing at 50, is expected to rise further, as scores are still missing.
- New York City and northern Virginia chosen to split Amazon's second headquarters.
- A very rare horizontal lightning bolt. [Photo]
- More photos of the devastation in California's northern and southern fires. [Newsweek's pictorial report]
(6) US higher education: Number of international students continues to fall under Trump, raising questions about the long-term impact of his presidency on the prosperity of high-tech and other industries.
(7) What US Presidents said when their party lost the House in midterm elections.
Bill Clinton (1994): Said they were held "accountable."
George W. Bush (2006): Called it a "thumping."
Barack Obama (2010): Called it a "shellacking."
Donald Trump (2018): Called it a "tremendous success."
(8) President of Pasadena Firefighters Association responds to Trump's blaming forest mismanagement for the devastating California wildfires. [Tweet image]
(9) [Final thought for the day] The power of nukes: Russia wouldn't be considered a world power without its nukes. Its economy is ranked 11th worldwide. California would be 5th if ranked among world countries. Without its nuclear threat, North Korea would be mentioned in world news at most once or twice per year!

2018/11/12 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Rain never stops a true leader from performing his/her duties. A very traditional Diwali celebration, with selfie and all! Trump is all smiles upon meeting Putin in Paris (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Rain never stops a true leader from performing his/her duties. [Center] A very traditional Diwali celebration, with selfie and all! [Right] A picture is worth a thousand words: Which world leader is most excited to see Putin in Paris?
(2) NASA plans to use robots to create rocket fuel on Mars: Shipping 1 kg of anything to Mars requires 225 kg of rocket fuel, so it makes sense to try to manufacture on Mars anything that can be created there. Water, oxygen, and fuel are among the stuff that scientists believe can be produced on Mars.
(3) China reveals that two of its TV anchors are AI-driven robots: Text of the news is fed into the human-like anchors and they read it out, with no need for breaks, food, or sleep.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Death toll in California wildfires continues to rise: It now stands at 31, with hundreds still missing.
- Bone-spurs Don and his pal Vladimir are missing in this march of solidarity along the Champs Elysees.
- The real Tom and Jerry! [1-minute video]
- Girl, who carried her abusive grandfather's baby, faces attempted abortion charges and 20 years in jail.
- Michelle Obama's highly-anticipated memoir, Becoming: Book excerpts
- A beautiful dance performance: Half classical and half belly dancing. [2-minute video]
(5) Regional special sections of CACM: Communications of the ACM has launched an inclusive feature to highlight what is happening in computing around the world. The first installment, in the November 2018 issue, covers China. Among observations in this 50-page special section (pp. 38-87) are China's aspirations to become the "Saudi Arabia of Data" and its ambitious long-term programs in emerging areas such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing. [Introduction and table of contents]
(6) Persian poetry: In this 9-minute video, a young man, who says he has two mullahs as grandparents, recites his humorous and stinging poem about Islamic clerics' ridiculous proclamations and actions.
(7) Ancient relic going to the electronics recycling bin: All three of my kids used this graphing calculator in high school. I got my first scientific calculator (a simple one, not a graphing one) for ~$50 from UCLA Bookstore in the early 1970s, shortly after it came out. It was the first electronic calculator to be pocket-size and affordable to students. We have come a long way in 45 years!

2018/11/11 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for 'The President Is Missing' (1) Book review: Clinton, Bill and James Patterson (with ghostwriter David Ellis), The President Is Missing: A Novel, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Dennis Quaid and others, Hachette Audio, 2018.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This cyber-crime novel piqued my interest, perhaps in part due to the extensive publicity preceding its release. While not a bad story, it is very much a Patterson novel, with its assembly-line production. Patterson releases a tad under one book per month, with his noteworthy books including Along Came a Spider, The Lake House, and the "Women's Murder Club" series. Clinton likely contributed insight into the workings of the president, his cabinet, and interactions with other entities, such as the Congress.
The plot entails a devastating computer virus that would plunge the US into "Dark Ages" by overwriting all active data files on Internet-connected platforms, which includes pretty much everything these days. A Harrison-Ford-like president is the kick-ass-fit and mentally-sharp protagonist (perhaps Clinton saw himself in the fictional president), who goes into hiding, as he struggles to stop the looming activation of the virus, while also trying to find out which of a handful of close aides is cooperating with the terrorists and/or hostile state responsible for the virus.
Descriptions of the virus, its likely effects, and potential countermeasures are rather laughable to a computer expert such as this reviewer. The virus is treated like a ticking bomb in action movies, which is invariably defused by the hero, as the timer is just a few ticks away from reaching zero.
All in all, not a bad read, but utterly forgettable!
(2) Special Veterans' Day event in Santa Barbara: Entitled "1918: An Immersive Multimedia Experience," the Saturday-Sunday 11/10-11, 2018, event at the El Presidio historic park is a video-projection installation (with imagery from the US National Archives) honoring Veterans' Day and the signing of the Armistice of November 11, 1918, which ended World War I. A very happy Veterans' Day to all!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Death toll in California wildfires rises to 23: High winds hamper efforts to control all three major fires.
- The boss shows his satisfaction: Putin flashes 'thumbs up' to Trump before shaking his hand in Paris. [Photo]
- With Putin also nearby, Macron tells Trump to his face that nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.
- When will Trump toughen libel laws, as promised, so reporters whom he calls stupid and racist can sue him?
(4) Two magical events tonight, 2018/11/11: The first one was a sobering visual presentation at Santa Barbara's historic El Presidio to honor Veterans' Day as well as the 100th anniversary of signing of the Armistice Treaty of November 11, 1918, to end World War I [Photos] [Video 1] [Video 2]. The second one was a concert, "Montage: A Celebration of Genres," featuring an eclectic program and directed by UCSB Music Department's incomparable, world-renowned flutist, Professor Jill Felber [Program] [Photos 1] [Photos 2].

2018/11/10 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
(1) California fires, up close and from space: Camp Fire, already the most destructive in California history, kills 9 (dozens still missing) and destroys nearly 7000 structures in the town of Paradise. The center panel in the bottom row of images shows Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, as extensive evacuations were ordered. SoCal areas experience Internet and TV outages due to fire-damaged equipment. Thousand Oaks, a community devastated by mass shooting a few days ago, is now facing devastation by fire.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A house-size asteroid, 2018 VX1, flies past our Earth today at a distance closer than the moon.
- American press, unite! What happens if the White House calls a press conference and no one shows up?
- J. K. Rowling's response to a Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweet with blatant lies and a doctored video.
- Oh, the irony: A source named "America Uncensored" calls for more White House press passes to be revoked!
- "Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength." ~ American philosopher Eric Hoffer [1898-1983]
(3) Anti-Semitic hate crimes in the US: According to a survey conducted by GBA Strategies, 72% of American Jews think that, by emboldening anti-Semites, Trump's comments and policies are "very" or "somewhat" responsible for attacks against Jews.
(4) Sexual harassment in engineering hurts the field, in addition to individuals: The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have published a consensus study report titled "Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine." At more than 300 pages, the report makes many interesting observations and useful recommendations. Sexual harassment hurts the women victims, to state the obvious, but it also damages entire disciplines by threatening to reverse the slow, but steady gains made in recruiting women to STEM fields.

2018/11/09 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Oldest known color photo of Tehran's Pahlavi Ave. (later renamed Vali-e-Asr) Art from scrap: Skull sculpture made of cans Catalina Island's 80-year-old airport runway, which is in poor shape, will be revamped by the US Marine Corps (1) Interesting images: [Left] Oldest known color photo of Tehran's Pahlavi Ave. (later renamed Vali-e-Asr). [Center] Art from scrap: Skull sculpture made of cans. [Right] Catalina Island's 80-year-old airport runway, which is in poor shape, will be revamped by the US Marine Corps.
(2) [I will take some flak for this, but here it is anyway!] Intellectual laziness: In this 6-minute fragment of a Persian-language lecture, the speaker (unknown to me) reminds Iranians that the country's problems require critical minds and 21st-century solutions. Invoking ancient personalities as keys to progress is regressive, regardless of whether it is Cyrus/Dariush, Zoroaster, or Rumi/Hafiz/Ferdowsi.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Massive wildfires rage in California: The 0%-contained Woolsey fire burns homes in Ventura County.
- Heavy smoke in Ventura, California, from nearby fires in Thousand Oaks and elsewhere. [Photo]
- The Borowitz Report (humor): "Trump unable to stop caravan of Democratic women invading Washington."
- Nintendo to suspend all video streaming services on Wii, including the Netflix Channel, in February 2019.
- DARPA plans on testing autonomous flight in Black-Hawk helicopters.
- Quote of the day: "I don't want prayers ... I want gun control." ~ Mother of Thousand Oaks shooting victim
(4) No planes for Iran: The state-owned COMAC (Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China) will not sell passenger planes to Iran. Fearing US retaliation, Moscow has also ruled out helping Iran with its fleet renewal plans.
(5) "Towards Hardware Cybersecurity": This was the title of a 2018/11/09 talk by Dr. Houman Homayoun (ECE, George Mason U.) at UCSB. Authenticity and integrity of data have traditionally been protected with security protocols at the software level, with the underlying hardware assumed to be secure and reliable. A steady rise in hardware complexity and increased attacks on hardware integrity have invalidated the latter assumption. Counterfeiting electronic components, inserting hardware trojans, and cloning integrated circuits are just a few of many malicious byproducts. Homayoun presented the concept of hybrid spin-transfer torque CMOS lookup-table-based design as a cost-effective countermeasure against physical reverse-engineering attacks. He then showed how the use of data at the hardware-architecture level, in combination with an effective ML-based predictor, helps protect systems against various classes of hardware vulnerability attacks. [Photos/slides]
[Side note: Young researchers sometimes err in their oral presentations by constructing their slides to impress, rather than to communicate. Putting too much information on one slide, and including too many slides in a presentation, that gives you virtually no chance to cover all of them, is counterproductive. A jam-packed slide, of which only 10-20% is actually covered, or that is flashed for only 3 seconds before moving on, is quite disorienting to the audience.]

2018/11/08 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cactus flowers, Batch 1: Purple Cactus flowers, Batch 2: Pink Cactus flowers, Batch 3: Orange (1) Beautiful cactus flowers: It's hard to imagine that the thorny, often ugly, plants produce such beauties!
(2) Horrific mass shooting by former US Marine at California bar claims 12 lives: This is way too close for comfort. I hope all my relatives and friends in the Thousand Oaks area are okay. Please don't wait for someone in your close circle to be affected before demanding sensible gun laws!
(3) Higher education will miss Claire McCaskill: The Senator, who lost her re-election bid on 11/6, made a big difference by putting campus sexual misconduct on the radar of Congress and the nation.
(4) Seven new scientists were elected to the US Congress on 11/6: The group includes an ocean expert, a nurse, a biochemist, and Nevada's Jacky Rosen, a computer programmer, who prevailed in the Senate race.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Today is the 2nd anniversary of the most horrific event for many of us. Hoping that things change by the 3rd!
- Man was arrested and charged with multiple terrorism-related offenses for threatening to kill CNN reporter.
- Perseverance always pays off: Failure isn't falling down; It's not getting back up. [3-minute video]
- A lively tune to brighten your day: "No Face, No Name, No Number" [4-minute video]
- Wonderful folk music and dance from Iran's Caspian-Sea region. [3-minute video]
- An Azeri song, beautifully performed with big-orchestra accompaniment. [3-minute video]
(6) "Self-Supervised Learning: Could Machines Learn Like Humans?": This was the title of a Thursday 11/08/2018 talk by Yann LeCun, Facebook's VP & Chief AI Scientist and Founding Director of the NYU Center for Data Science. UCSB's Corwin Pavilion, the venue for the 3:30 PM talk, was completely filled, with many attendees standing in the back or along the side walls of the room; highly unusual for a technical talk!
Thus far, machine learning has been by and large of the supervised variety, with human guidance and expertise used to train the AI algorithms. Even for fairly simple tasks, supervised learning requires a large number of labeled samples, making it practical only for certain tasks. Reinforcement learning requires many interactions with the environment.
Deep learning, which has brought about significant progress in computer perception, natural language understanding, and control, has also been of the supervised variety thus far, while animals and humans seem to learn much task-independent knowledge about how the world works through mere observation and occasional interactions. Learning new tasks or skills require very few samples or interactions: We learn to drive cars and fly planes in about 30 hours of practice.
What learning paradigm do humans and animal use to learn so efficiently? LeCun put forth the hypothesis that self-supervised learning of predictive world models is an essential missing ingredient of current approaches to AI. One could argue that prediction is the essence of intelligence. [Photos]

2018/11/07 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Diwali, the Hindu spiritual festival, aka the Festival of Lights (1) Happy Diwali, the Hindu spiritual festival, aka the Festival of Lights, that is used to offer prayers to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, and to ritually observe the idea of knowledge over ignorance and good over evil.
(2) The slow-moving disaster near San Andreas Fault, where the big quake is expected: A muddy spring near California's Salton Sea, which had moved 60 feet over a few months, suddenly moved 60 feet in a single day.
(3) US midterm election results: The House will be controlled by Democrats (in what is characterized as a rainbow, rather then the projected blue, wave) and Republicans maintain control of the Senate. While this is only a small step toward neutralizing Trump, it constitutes a major improvement over the status quo. I choose to focus on the positive: The fact that Trump will face real oversight from one branch of the legislature. My advice to other Democrats is to cherish the advances and not to fret over the fact that Trumpians gained Senate seats, which makes one wonder how much damage a President has to do to lose control of the Congress!
(4) The women's wave: Women, of many persuasions and ethnic backgrounds, were elected yesterday at the national and state levels (legislatures, governorships, judgeships, etc.). The new House is projected to include 95 women (up from 84), and 13 new women will join the 10 women Senators who weren't up for re-election.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories in Iran: An Iranwire report from June 2018.
- ADL honors journalist, filmmaker, and human rights activist Maziar Bahari with Daniel Pearl Award.
- Cyrus the Great (King Cyrus) Street in Jerusalem, Israel. [Photo of street sign]
- Pretending to investigate Khashoggi's death, agents actually removed evidence from the Saudi consulate.
- Why Bill Gates is advocating and funding research on reinventing the toilet.
- The just-opened Rockfire Grill in Isla Vista, on the path I walk between my home and UCSB office. [Photo]
- Quote of the day: "Data is the new oil." ~ British mathematician Clive Humby
- The Salt Martians performed bluegrass music today at noon, as part of UCSB's World Music Series.
(6) Post-election news: Trump threw a temper tantrum at a news conference after the midterm elections, lashing out at Republicans who lost, the Democrats, and the news media. Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a target of Trump's mean-spirited attacks for months, resigned at Trump's request.
(7) The pasta puzzle: Take an uncooked pasta noodle and bend it, until it breaks. Most likely, it won't break into just two pieces. If you strongly twist the noodle while bending it, it will likely snap into two pieces. Why?

2018/11/06 (tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The kids who voiced Peanuts characters in the 1960s India unveils the world's tallest statue: Known as the Statue of Unity, the 182-meter behemoth depicts the Indian national hero Vallabhbhai Patel A wonderful work of art that invites children to interact with it (1) The worlds of art and entertainment: [left] The kids who voiced Peanuts characters in the 1960s. [Center] India unveils the world's tallest statue: Known as the Statue of Unity, the 182-meter behemoth depicts the Indian national hero Vallabhbhai Patel. [Right] A wonderful work of art that invites children to interact with it.
(2) False sexual assault allegations are extremely rare: According to the National Registry of Exonerations, in the nearly 3 decades since 1989, only 52 men charged with sexual assault were exonerated due to being falsely accused; that's fewer than 2 per year. [Fact cited by Ariana Marmolejo in her opinion piece published in Daily Nexus, UCSB's student newspaper]
(3) A dynamic graph showing the world's top-10 countries in terms of GDP, 1960-2017. The US is always at the top, but other countries' relative GDPs grow/shrink and their ranks occasionally rearranged. [Video]
(4) The Iranian Parliament's law about Iran joining the international Terrorist Financing (Suppression) Convention has been rejected by the Guardian Council, for a long list of "problems" as well as violations of the country's constitution. [Documents in Persian]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and memes (US midterm elections edition).
- Rumors and hoaxes about voting and polling places are quite common on Election Day: Be vigilant!
- Vote as if your life depends upon it ... It just might!
- Cartoon of the day (about voting): "You are here. You should be here, your voting place." [Image]
- On the eve of the US Election Day, TV networks (including Fox) pull Trump's racist ad.
- Trump fans chant "4 More Years": Does this mean they want him impeached in the middle of his 2nd term?
- Barbra Streisand addresses Trump in a new song: "Don't Lie to Me"
(6) Motivational speech: Baluchi young woman talks about her life challenges, including recovering from life-altering injuries sustained in a car crash, getting out of an unhappy arranged marriage, and overcoming her fears. [6-minute video, with Persian subtitles]
(7) Intellectual laziness: In this 6-minute lecture fragment, the Persian speaker reminds Iranians that the country's problems require critical minds and 21st-century solutions. Invoking ancient personalities as keys to progress is regressive, regardless of whether it is Cyrus/Dariush, Zoroaster, or Rumi/Hafiz/Ferdowsi.

2018/11/04 (Sunday): A report from IEEE IEMCON conference, which I attended in Vancouver, Canada.
UBC's Student Nest Building's main lobby The pond at the center of UBC's main campus mall The entrance to conference facilities at UBC's Student Nest Building (1) Held November 1-3, 2018, on the Vancouver campus of the University of British Columbia, the 9th IEEE Information Technology, Electronics and Mobile Communication Conference featured many keynote lectures and parallel technical sessions in multiple tracks. The conference venue was UBC's Student Nest Building, seen in two of the photos above: The main lobby is on the left and the entrance to conference facilities on the right.
(2) I missed the first day of the conference due to arriving in Vancouver in the evening of 11/1. On the morning of the second day, after a buffet breakfast, the conference's technical program featured three research keynotes, with three more scheduled for the third day. The first day's keynotes were given by industry leaders. A list of research keynotes which I did attend on the final two days follows.
- Georgios Giannakis (U. Minnesota): "Online Learning and Management for Edge Computing In IOT"
- Sidney Fels (UBC): "Design for Human Experience and Expression at the HCT Laboratory"
- Nicolas A. F. Jaeger (UBC): "Silicon Photonics: Smaller, Cheaper, Faster"
- Vincent Wong (UBC): "Non-Orthogonal Multiple Access in 5G Wireless Networks"
- Shen-En Qian (Canadian Space Agency): "Satellite Observation for Coastal Ocean and Inland Waters"
- Behraad Bahreyni (Simon Fraser U.): "Vector Microsensors for Acoustic and Optical Signals"
(3) I took advantage of a time slot on 11/2, with no interesting conference sessions for me, to walk on the immense 56,000-student Vancouver campus of the University of British Columbia, including its mile-long Main Mall, photographing architectural landmarks and student life. Sandwiched between a rainy Thursday and expected rain on Saturday, the weather was nice, but a bit on the chilly side. [Photos]
(4) In a nice touch, the conference organizers, presented speakers with certificates of presentation.
(5) Data analytics workshop: I spent much of the 11/3 afternoon attending an interesting workshop, where fundamentals of data analytics and use of the two clustering/categorization tools, RapidMiner and WEKA, were discussed by Dr. Satyajit Chakrabarti. [Photos]
(6) Awards ceremony at the end of the conference: The Technical Program Committee was kind enough to honor two of my contributions with Best-Paper Awards in their respective conference tracks.
(7) Heading back home: After 35 minutes in the air from Vancouver to Seattle on a propeller plane and a 45-minute wait for the gate to free up, I barely had enough time to change terminals and make it to my Santa-Barbara-bound flight. Once at home, I was extremely grateful to have returned to California sunshine from a gloomy early-November Vancouver. I need the coming week to resume my teaching, make up for cancelled lectures, catch up with e-mail and other personal/professional commitments, and generally recover from a week-long absence for two conferences. Looking forward to the Veterans' Day observance holiday on Monday 11/12 and Thanksgiving weekend's family gatherings the following week!

2018/11/03 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: 'Just tell me which part Obama wrote' Cartoon: The President in no way, form, or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence Moses is ordered to turn his caravan around, because it contains too many Middle Easterners! (1) Trump cartoons: [Left] "Just tell me which part Obama wrote." (from The New Yorker) [Center] "The President in no way, form, or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence." ~ Sarah Huckabee Sanders [Right] Moses is ordered to turn his caravan around, because it contains too many Middle Easterners!
(2) Grand Ayatollah Musa Shobairi Zanjani ordered to behave: Iran's Islamic regime doesn't just oppress Jews, Christians, Baha'is, and Sunni Muslims. It also squashes Shiite clergy criticizing the Supreme Leader.
(3) Trump's only worries about the hateful massacre of Jews and assassination attempts at leading Democrats? That the events stopped GOP's 'tremendous momentum'!
(4) Comedian Hasan Minhaj tells you all you need to know about Saudi Arabia: Great job, but I hope he never has a need to visit a Saudi consulate! [19-minute video]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Voting is just like driving: Choose "R" to go backward, "D" to go forward! [Meme]
- Yet another loco: Peace in the Middle East is impossible unless Jews and Muslims convert to Christianity.
- Pentagon rejects request to send troops to the border for what it considers a law-enforcement function.
- Traitor and super-spy Robert Hanssen was exposed by a KGB defector, a new book claims.
- Hit-and-run driver kills three Girl Scouts and an adult picking up highway trash in Wisconsin.
- Coalition of 46 scientists urges researchers to cite possible risks when sharing new AI technology.
- UCSB's ECE Department has 4 open academic positions, including 2 in computer engineering.
- "Your products are encroaching on my products." [Cartoon, from The New Yorker]
- These undated photos of melting polar ice are sobering nonetheless.
- An Iranian folk poem/song about wistfully remembering the simple pleasures of yore.
- Political commentary: The latest incarnation of Trump's southern border wall! [Credit: Stephen Colbert]
- Police report in Iran blames the Internet for women's increasing resistance to mandatory hijab laws.
(6) Catching up with a long-time friend: I was lucky enough to be able to connect with college classmate Farrokh Elmieh, dining together at Gilaneh Persian Restaurant during my last night in Vancouver, Canada.
(7) Final thought for the day: Know your voting rights: California law allows you to take up to 2 hours off from work on Election Day without a loss of pay.

2018/11/02 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine's cover for its November 5, 2018, double-issue features a large tri-fold photo of 245 participants (hunters, activists, teachers, police officers, parents, and children), who have told their gun stories in their own words (1) Time magazine's November 5, 2018, cover features a large tri-fold photo of 245 participants (hunters, activists, teachers, police officers, parents, and children), who have told their gun stories in their own words.
(2) On giving women more opportunities: Have you noticed that as male politicians, executives, entertainers, and TV anchors/hosts fall from grace for sexual misconduct, their female counterparts step up and fill the void admirably? Why weren't they given the opportunities in the first place?
(3) Saudi sisters whose bodies were found duct-taped together in NYC's Hudson River had stated they'd rather kill themselves than return to Saudi Arabia.
(4) Inadvertently dropped from the end of this Trump quote: "... as long they are male, white, straight, rich, Christian, and voted for me." [Grammar-challenged, as always!]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Bus plunges off bridge in China, killing 13+, after a woman who missed her stop fights with the driver.
- Donald Trump wants to play the macho tough guy and the fragile victim at the same time!
- Security concerns cited as US limits tech exports to Chinese chip-maker.
- Afghan villagers die or are maimed in large numbers by bomb explosions. [Photo, Time magazine, Nov. 5]
- Taking a page from Trump's playbook, Iran accuses BBC of hate speech, propaganda, and fake news.
- "You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
- The world record of stone-skipping, 88 skips, is nearly impossible to exceed. [12-minute video]
- Two rather unusual word puzzles that I worked on during my 11/01 flight from Santa Barbara to Seattle.
- Oldest intact shipwreck found off the coast of Bulgaria: The 75-ft Greek merchant ship is 2400 years old.
(6) The US Military has been groaning on the sidelines thus far, but when Trump starts pushing them around for political gain, tempers will flare. The Pentagon deems sending troops to the southern border a waste of tax-payers' money for political goals and also worries about the troops being caught between the asylum-seekers and American vigilantes.
(7) Bad sensor blamed for Soyuz rocket failure: The malfunctioning sensor, which signals the jettisoning of one of the four side boosters, caused the booster to collide with the rocket's second stage.

2018/11/01 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Anti-Semisism: Burning Stae of David (1) Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society: HIAS was founded to help Jews fleeing persecution resettle in Israel or the West. I know quite a few Jews who benefited from the services of HIAS, for which they are grateful. Later, HIAS broadened its mission to providing assistance to all refugees, not just Jews. Supporting HIAS was one of the "sins" of the members of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, for which they were gunned down by a human-like creature, whose failed masculinity (he wanted to become a pro wrestler, but had to settle for exotic dancer) led to his murderous rage.
(2) A large group of Iranian musicians and other celebrities sing the "Ey Iran" anthem, a de facto national anthem, given that the Islamic Republic's version is viewed by most as lacking legitimacy.
(3) Solidarity: Islamic Center of Pittsburgh has raised $70,000+ for synagogue attack victims and has offered security guards for their next service.
(4) Sharing a funny tweet from Aida Ahadiany: Uber has messaged me that if I use their offered discount three times until Sunday, the discount will be extended for another two weeks. They just don't get it that my problem isn't discounts; it's not having any place to go. [Persian tweet]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- [Humor] Welcome sign at a Saudi consulate: Come in peace, leave in pieces.
- Nature photography by Goli Tavakoli. [Photos]
- Persian music: Darya Dadvar performs "Strangers in the Night," for which she composed Persian lyrics.
- Azeri music: A wonderful song, with piano and vocals, by two unidentified women.
- Landslide in Italy: Perhaps the most devastating mud flow ever captured on video.
- Experience Beethoven's Fifth not just aurally but also visually through a very clever Line-Rider animation.
(6) Talk about spoilers! Russian scientist stabs a colleague for telling him the endings of books he wanted to read. I have to exercise more care in my book reviews!
(7) Dinesh D'Souza, the man who retweeted posts with the hashtags #burntheJews and #bringbackslavery, and who was recently pardoned by Trump, has been invited to speak at Stanford U. in January 2019.
(8) A new sink gadget: I first saw this gadget a few days ago at Starbucks in King City, California. Water comes out from its middle, soap dispenser is on the left, and a powerful blow-dryer on the right, all three operated by motion sensors. An excellent engineering solution to a daily need in public places.
(9) Jimmy Wales, the visionary man who started Wikipedia, the Internet's largest information source, is driven by his love for education, rather than fame or money. His name may not be as familiar as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk today, but history will judge him as more influential.

2018/10/31 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Halloween-themed Trump cartoon 1 United against anti-Semitism logo Halloween-themed Trump cartoon 2 (1) Halloween 2018 and anti-Semistism: [Left and right] Halloween-themed Trump cartoons. [Center] United against anti-Semitism: "But his son-in-law is Jewish" no longer cuts it as a defense for a president who has unleashed forces of evil against Jews, not to mention Muslims, refugees, and many other persecuted groups.
(2) Rise in anti-Semitism in the US: According to ADL's CEO, after a decade of decline, anti-Semitic hate crimes increased 34% in 2016 and 57% in 2017. The numbers for 2018 so far are comparable to 2017. The data leaves no doubt that Trump is to blame. Meanwhile, Trump took the opportunity to bow to his NRA masters: The synagogue should have had an armed guard! There is no evidence that an armed guard would do anything other than increase the number of casualties by one.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Murder mystery: Saudi sisters' bodies found duct-taped together in NYC's Hudson River.
- A progressive Jewish group told Trump not to visit Pittsburgh until he fully denounces white nationalism.
- Today's Trump tweet about his Pittsburgh trip: Do you see any direct mention of the shooting victims?
- LA spooked out: Boston beat LA Dodgers 5-1 in game 5 to win the MLB championship series 4-1.
- In the crash of a Boeing 737 Indonesian airliner into the sea shortly after takeoff, 189 people died.
- Persian Music: There are many YouTube videos from Fatemeh Mehlaban, but they provide no info on her.
(4) Immigrant bashing continues: In what is considered to be his most drastic anti-immigrant step, Trump says he can, and intends to, end birthright citizenship with an executive order.
(5) Troops deployment to our southern border will cost an estimated $50 million: Campaign spending on behalf of the Republicans from our tax money, essentially!
(6) Attending 52nd Asilomar Conference on Signals, Systems, and Computers: Since the afternoon of Sunday 10/28, I have been at the beautiful Asilomar Conference Grounds (a National Park) in Pacific Grove, California. On Monday morning, I was scheduled to present a poster and a paper at a lecture session at the same time. I solved the dilemma by putting up my poster early, attaching a note to it that explained the problem to visitors, and running to the other session to give my talk, barely making it there in time. I joked that the conference organizing committee must have included a physicist who wanted to experiment with quantum teleportation! I walked along the beautiful Asilomar State Beach [Video 1] [Video 2] during Monday's lunch break. After conference sessions ended for me on Monday, I headed from Pacific Grove toward Monterey, stopping at and exploring the Lovers Point Park [Photos] [Video 1] [Video 2]. You can say I was feeling some love for myself! On Tuesday afternoon, I took advantage of a lull in conference sessions to take a stroll on Monterey's Cannery Row [Photos] [Selfies with statues in front of "After the Quake" novelty stoer] [Photos taken along Monterey's Cannery Row and on its Steinbeck Plaza]. On Steinbeck Plaza, a couple of super-talented teenagers performed Beatles songs [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]. On the way back from Monterey to my hotel, I encountered quite a few deer on a residential street in Pacific Grove [Photos].

2018/10/29 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
(1) The green lagoon: UCSB's campus lagoon looks green most of the time. The reason, as explained in the center photo above, is excessive growth of algae and submerged aquatic plants in the lagoon's warm, nutrient-rich water. I took all but the top-center aerial photo (which is from the Internet) in late October, 2018, as I walked to the Loma Pelona Conference Center for attending a talk.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Some ideas for keeping foodstuff fresh: I learned a couple of new tricks from this 3-minute video!
- Cartoon of the day: "Cell" phone! [Image]
- Video joke of the day: Man's dream of superiority comes to an abrupt end! [1-minute video]
- Art created on apples and leaves: Simply awe-inspiring! [2-minute video]
- Dance with a dazzling lighted costume. [May be partially muted in some regions due to copyright issues.]
(3) Judeo-Arabic, the little-known language spoken by Jews across the Medieval Arab world: "Less known than Yiddish or Ladino, Judeo-Arabic was spoken by Jews from Iran to Spain, from Yemen to Syria. The 99-year-old doyen of Maimonides' tongue, says that during Golden Age of Islam, Jewish culture in Arab lands was 10 times greater than that of Ashkenazi Jewry."
(4) I will be attending two back-to-back conferences: The first, Asilomar Conference on Signals, Systems, and Computers, will be in Pacific Grove, CA, October 28-31, 2018. The second, IEEE Information Technology, Electronics & Mobile Communication Conference, will be in Vancouver, Canada, November 1-3, 2018. In case anyone is interested, I will be presenting a total of 5 papers at the two conferences, as shown in this list. You can find the full papers and presentations (in PDF and PPT formats) near the top of my publications list.

2018/10/27 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Extraordinary architecture and tilework from Iran: Example 1 Movie poster for 'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night' Extraordinary architecture and tilework from Iran: Example 2 (1) Iran-related images: [Left and right] Examples of extraordinary architecture and tilework from Iran. [Center] Iranian movie screening at UCSB: The 2014 vampire movie "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" (I was totally unaware of any Persian-language vampire film) will be shown at UCSB's Multicultural Center Theater, beginning at 6:00 PM on Wednesday, October 31, 2018. I will be attending two conferences the entire next week, but plan to be back in Santa Barbara on 10/31 evening only, so I may be able to go see the film.
(2) Best of Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Independent publishes an annual issue (cover image) in which the best businesses in our area are highlighted based on reader opinions. The problem is that the categories are so narrow that most businesses end up being the best in some category. This reminds me of something a friend told me many years ago. According to him, Americans are so bent on being the best that they draw boundaries within which they reign supreme. Examples include the tallest building west of the Mississippi and the largest eye-surgery center between Los Angeles and San Jose.
(3) Iran's border control may refrain from stamping passports of travelers who are concerned that they may not be able to enter the US after visiting Iran: Israel has been doing this for decades to accommodate people from Islamic countries or those who plan to travel to Islamic countries and want no record of a visit to Israel.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Eleven dead in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, where a gunman walked in shouting "all Jews must die."
- The Psychology of Hate: An interesting and timely read, in view of the recent hate-crime incidents.
- In a surprise development, China cuts Iran oil purchases ahead of US sanctions.
- Persian music, accompanied by a slide show depicting life in the Iran of yore and today. [5-minute video]
(5) College soccer: The blue/green rivalry between UCSB and Cal Poly SLO has produced many memorable games and some of the largest spectator crowds on both campuses. Tonight, the two teams faced each other at UCSB's nearly-filled Harder Stadium, with UCSB prevailing 2-0. UCSB could have scored a third goal in the final minute, but a great save by the Cal Poly goalie deflected the well-placed header.
Side note 1: I bought my ticket to the game on-line and headed to the stadium on foot, getting there at 6:50 for a game I thought would start at 7:00. Unbeknownst to me, the game had been moved to 5:00 PM with no notice. So, I watched only the final 15 minutes or so, which was still pretty exciting.
Side note 2: Returning home on foot via Isla Vista, I noticed heavy presence by the Isla Vista Foot Patrol officers on foot and on bicycles, as well as Santa Barbara County's patrol cars. The weekend before a Halloween falling on a weekday is sometimes wild and results in quite a few arrests of drunken out-of-towners.

2018/10/26 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Frankenstein's 200th anniversary: Mary Shelly's novel, written 200 years ago, created a new genre and has enjoyed a remarkable afterlife If the Pinocchio effect were real, Trump would look like this after 21 months in office! Photo of the van belonging to the suspect in the mailed pipe-bombs terror attack (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Frankenstein's 200th anniversary: Mary Shelly's novel, written 200 years ago, created a new genre and has enjoyed a remarkable afterlife. UCSB Library is showcasing a number of books on Frankenstein for the occasion. [Center] If the Pinocchio effect were real, Trump would look like this after 21 months in office! [Right] Photo of the van belonging to the suspect in the mailed pipe-bombs terror attack.
(2) Prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun is credited with kick-starting the #MeToo movement in South Korea. [From Time magazine, issue of October 29, 2018]
(3) Khashoggi's murder puts the spotlight on Saudi money flowing to Harvard and MIT: Prostituting our most-revered institutions and sacrificing our founding principles for money. Way to go, America! [Facebook post]
(4) New study: The happiest married people are those who have ever had sex only with their spouse. [P.S.: As is common in the social sciences, there is probably a study somewhere that concludes just the opposite!]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Man arrested for mailing pipe-bomb packages to Donald Trump's critics: He is Cesar Sayoc, 56, of Davie, FL.
- Trump's main worry regarding pipe-bomb mailings? That the 'bomb stuff' can hurt Republicans in midterms.
- Iranian-American Abaseh Mirvali to head Santa Barbara's planned Museum of Contemporary Art.
- Wearable assistive robotics in the form of chair-less exoskeletons help workers at Hyundai's US plant.
- TU Wien and MIT develop machine-learning algorithm that can parallel-park a car using only 12 neurons.
- When the soccer ball just doesn't feel like going into the net, hitting all three goal posts within 2 seconds!
(6) Outrage over Megyn Kelly's comments: Kelly had said on TV that a person wearing a black face to impersonate Diana Ross, say, as part of a Halloween disguise/costume should not be criticized. I had a chat a couple of days ago with a friend who thought political correctness has been taken too far in this country and that Kelly did not intend to be mean or disrespectful; furthermore, she has apologized. I told my friend that if this is an isolated incident, it will soon be forgotten, but if Kelly had made other comments that were viewed as racist, then she should be held accountable for her overall record. Political correctness is a reaction to decades or even centuries of abuse and oppression, which has made certain groups overly sensitive to further abuse and disrespect. I cited the example of women who have been abused and held back for millennia, and are thus understandably wary of acts such as pinching and cat-calling, which, in the absence of the said context, might be viewed as lighthearted, rather than mean-spirited. If women were considered completely equal, there were no pay gap or glass ceiling for them, and their "no" answer was always interpreted as "no," they might have been much less sensitive to these issues. [Image]
[Update: NBC is apparently negotiating with Kelly to terminate her contract.]

2018/10/25 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Fall colors in Zonouz Village, northeast of Tabriz, Eastern Azerbaijan Province, Iran Believe it or not: A rectangular iceberg has recently broken off from the Larsen C ice shelf Automn in New York City's Central Park (1) Earth's wonderful nature: [Left] Fall colors in Zonouz Village, northeast of Tabriz, Eastern Azerbaijan Province, Iran. [Center] Believe it or not: A rectangular iceberg has recently broken off from the Larsen C ice shelf. [Right] Autumn in New York City's Central Park.
(2) Let the denials and deflections begin: Fox News host claims that the bomb scare was faked to make Trump look bad! Of course, no one's making Trump look bad more than Trump himself.
(3) The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) continued its strike across all 10 UC campuses today, citing the administration's not negotiating in good faith. [Video] [Photo]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Two people fall to their death from a popular overlook spot at California's Yosemite National Park.
- FBI arrests former Republican candidate for attempting to buy a lethal dose of a radioactive substance.
- The recent drop in the stock market has left the DJIA and S&P 500 in the negative territory for 2018. [Chart]
- Delightful little dancers: Some really awesome moves to brighten your day! [Video]
- Video joke of the day: The safest way to cross a super-busy street. [Video]
- Fantastic light show: Visual art projection on an an ancient stone tower. [Video]
(5) If bombs are sent to prominent Democrats, the media and socialists are to blame. If Republicans are harassed or shot at, it's the leftists' and media's fault.
(6) Tidbits from Chancellor Yang's report at today's meeting of UCSB Faculty Legislature:
- Last year, ~6700 students graduated from UCSB, bringing the total number of alumni to 210,000.
- This year, we recruited 5200 freshmen and 2500 transfer students, close to the 2/1 recently-mandated ratio.
- Non-residents account for 16% of our undergraduate student body; we are getting closer to the 18% cap.
- A classroom building with 2300 seats, centrally located on campus, is expected to be approved next month.
- Two consecutive issues of the journal Nature recently featured work by UCSB researchers on the cover.
- Where student live: 40% on campus; 40% Isla Vista; 20% nearly equally divided among SB/Goleta/other.
- US News and World Report ranked UCSB fifth among public universities; UCLA, Berkeley, Virginia, and Michigan occupy the top 4 spots. UC Irvine, UC Davis, and UCSD are also in the top 12.
(7) Screening of news films from archives (UCLA and U. South Carolina): Before the age of television, visual news footage was screened in movie theaters prior to the main feature. I remember watching many Movietone news clips in theaters in Iran. Tonight, at Pollock Theater, the audience was treated to a curated set of news clips from those days and a few from early TV days. The screening was part of the symposium "Rediscovering U.S. Newsfilm," being held at UCSB, October 25-27. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3] [Video 4] [Video 5]

2018/10/24 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Alarming stats on the number of prisoners per 100,000 population: The US compared to some other countries America's team places first in the 2018 International Math Olympiad Cartoon of the day: 'Welcome to the Saudi consulate. How can we help you?' (1) Some newsworthy images: [Left] Alarming stats on the number of prisoners per 100,000 population: The US compared to some other countries. [Center] America's team places first in the 2018 International Math Olympiad: "Wait, where's the American team?" muttered Trump. [Right] Cartoon of the day: "Welcome to the Saudi consulate. How can we help you?"
(2) Bomb packages sent to CNN, the Obamas, the Clintons, and other former US officials have been intercepted and are being investigated. What do these targets have in common? They have all been vilified by Trump in one way or another ("lock her up"). So, even though Trump now talks about unity, he is directly responsible for these acts of terror.
(3) UCSB strikers disrupt education: Over my 30 years at UCSB, I had never seen classes that were in session disrupted by strikers, who usually just want their grievances heard through signs, marching, and chanting in areas away from classrooms. Today, my 10:00-11:30 AM class was disrupted twice by loud chants and beating of drums, as the strikers marched by, each time for about 5 minutes. I guess this is part of the new incivility brought about by the dysfunction in our national politics. [Photo taken from my classroom's window.]
(4) World Music Series noon concert: Santa Barbara High School students, with help from a few UCSB alumni, performed selections from the musical "In the Heights" at UCSB's Music Bowl. Pre-recorded music was used for the most part, because they could not bring their 9-piece band to campus. I am looking forward to the show's opening next week. [Video 1] [Video 2, a song entitled "96,000," which, interestingly enough, is about winning the lottery (not quite 1.5 billion though)!] [Video 3, a wonderful love song]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Theory of evolution approved by Arizona's Board of Education as part of new science standards.
- According to Harvard Business Review, more top-performing CEOs have engineering degrees than MBAs.
- Kurdish woman sings: "They say Persian is sweet as sugar, but to me, Kurdish is even sweeter"! [Video]
- Robot "testifies" in the British Parliament about future use of AI in classrooms.
- Comedian Jimmy Kimmel: Sarah Huckabee Sanders' tell-all book will be titled B.S., I Love You.
- This manual/mechanical water pump for extracting water from a well was quite common in my youth.
(6) Scientist of the Year: Computational biologist Bette Korber, known for her work on HIV, will be given the Scientist of the Year Award at the 2018 R&D 100 ceremony in November. The same event will also recognize the 2018 R&D 100 Award winners.
(7) Political humor: Trump condemned the sending of bomb packages to several prominent Democrats. Now, I am waiting for his next news conference where he will say "there are fine people on both sides"!

2018/10/23 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. Only two weeks left to US Election Day: Please vote! Voting: Check!
Best election advice: Elect functioning adults (1) US midterm elections: [Left] Only two weeks left to US Election Day: Please vote! [Center] Voting: Check! [Right] Best election advice: Elect functioning adults. (Please let me where to find them!)
(2) Bird electric scooters have arrived in Isla Vista: I noticed them parked near major intersections and on busier streets a few days ago. For now, they are banned on UCSB's walkways and bike paths, which limits their usefulness as a transportation option for students. But discussions are ongoing with campus officials about the fate of these scooters, which are unlocked and managed from a smartphone app.
(3) Internet pioneer Dr. Leonard Kleinrock tells PC Magazine about the ARPANET precursor to today's Internet, how he got the geek bug and a full scholarship to MIT (where he developed the theory of packet switching as part of his PhD research), and UCLA's new Connection Lab, which will open in 2019, thanks to a $5M gift to honor his achievements.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Just one of Donald Trump's many lies to get votes: I will fight for LGBT freedoms and beliefs. [Tweet]
- Jared Kushner comes out of hiding and grants an interview on his relationship with MBS and other topics.
- Turkey says it has evidence Khashoggi's murder was premeditated, planned days in advance.
- Body-double is seen leaving the Saudi consulate in Ankara wearing Khashoggi's clothes, after he was killed.
- "Never before has a president been so determined not to be the president of all Americans." ~ Newsweek
- Director Oliver Stone's speech at the 2017 Writers Guild Awards, with Persian subtitles.
- When walls look like this, you know you are in the arts area of the campus!
- Humor: Democrats in Egypt egged the Jews to form a caravan of thousands and head to the land of Israel.
- Giant 200-meters-long sinkhole reveals enormous secret cave complex in Guangxi, China.
- NYer cartoon: "First you choose a protein, then some toppings, then you choose a Senator to publicly scold."
(5) "The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Cybersecurity": Computer Science Professor Giovanni Vigna spoke at Loma Pelona center on the UCSB Campus in the afternoon of Monday, October 22. The talk was part of UCSB's showcasing of its national prominence in cybersecurity research (under the direction of Professors Giovanni Vigna, Christopher Kruegel, and Dick Kemmerer) during National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. The talk's take-away was that even though cybersecurity will always remain an intrinsically human undertaking, much of the grunt work, data collection, and anomaly detection can be automated, so that human experts can focus on higher-level issues and more serious threats. [Images]

2018/10/21 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A helicopter installs a section of antenna mast of the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada, 1975 Poison cabinet disguised as a book, 17th century Chevrolet Impala ad, 1959 (1) History in pictures: [Left] A helicopter installs a section of antenna mast of the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada, 1975. [Center] Poison cabinet disguised as a book, 17th century. [Right] Chevrolet Impala ad, 1959.
(2) Nikki Haley's not-so-subtle jab at Donald Trump: "In our toxic political life, I've heard some people in both parties describe their opponents as enemies or evil. In America, our political opponents are not evil. In South Sudan, where rape is routinely used as a weapon of war, that is evil. In Syria, where the dictator uses chemical weapons to murder innocent children, that is evil. In North Korea, where American student Otto Warmbier was tortured to death, that was evil. In the last two years, I've seen true evil. We have some serious political differences here at home. But our opponents are not evil, they're just our opponents."
(3) A snag on the path to colonizing Mars: People and devices must be shielded against harmful solar and cosmic radiation, whose levels are much higher on Mars than on Earth, which has an atmospheric shield. But using an aluminum shield, which needs to be at least 7 mm thick, is impractical, as it imposes unrealistic load on spacecraft. A new radiation-shielding system that uses high-voltage electric cables to generate an electromagnetic field to protect modular colonies is being evaluated for use on Mars.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- John Bolton is taking us toward war with Iran and other adversaries. John Kelly apparently opposes him.
- Hot off the press: The Art If the Deal: New Presidential Edition. [Cartoon]
- Cartoon of the day: The recently completed Supreme Court of the United States of America. [Image]
- Saying: "When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression."
- Quote: "The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge." ~ Bertrand Russell
- Another video in the "People Are Awesome" series. [Parts of the audio may be muted for some viewers]
(5) Report: I have put together a report on UCSB Iranian Studies Initiative's Fourth Annual Conference with the theme "Slavery and Sexual Labor in the Middle East & North Africa," held on October 19-20, 2018, at UCSB's Mosher Alumni House. Here are links to the report on Facebook, my Blog & Books page, and Twitter.
(6) [Final thought for the day] My message to a student, who is taking a leave of absence because of a hospitalized, terminally-ill father: "I am so sorry to hear about your family emergency. I hope you can take a leave of absence as planned and can spend some time with your dad. There are certain events we cannot control and, thus, we must be satisfied with expending the best effort to deal with them. Wishing you the patience and resolve to deal with the inevitable loss." [Sharing this message, because most of us have to deal with terminally ill loved ones in the course of our lives. When people work or study under us, we must show compassion as fellow human-beings, rather then deal with the problem administratively.]

2018/10/20 (Saturday): Fourth Annual Conference of UCSB's Iranian Studies Initiative:
Poster for the Fourth Annual Conference of UCSB's Iranian Studies Initiative Held on October 19-20, 2018, at UCSB's Mosher Alumni House, the Fourth Annual Conference of the Iranian Studies Initiative, with multiple institutional and individual sponsors, was entitled "Slavery and Sexual Labor in the Middle East & North Africa." The program and my notes follow. These notes do not replace the abstracts, which are found on the conference's program Web page, but are meant to reflect my own take-aways from each presentation, where I could pay attention and understood the key points. I also include here some photos from the conference and the UCSB campus. Here are direct links to this report and its Facebook version for sharing.
Friday morning, October 19, 2018
[8:45-9:00] Coffee and tea
[9:00-9:15] Opening: Eric Massie (Conference Organizer, UCSB); Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar (Director, Middle East Studies Program, Santa Barbara City College); Janet Afary (Director, Iranian Studies Initiative, UCSB)
[9:15-9:30] Welcome by Dean John Majewski (Michael Douglas Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts, UCSB): Besides welcoming the attendees on behalf of the UCSB administration, Dean Majewski talked about his own research (Civil War, economics of slavery) that intersected with the theme of the conference. He praised the conference organizers for their triple achievement: Merging the discussion of slave labor with sexual exploitation, which is more than just forced labor of a certain kind; Bringing together work from the humanities and social sciences and enriching the discussion with a photo exhibit; Shining a light on the contemporary plight of Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi women, as well as exploitation of children, in the Persian Gulf region.
[9:30-10:45] Panel 1: Intimates and Familiars: Marriage, Slaves, and Family
Chair: Behnaz Mirzai (Dept. History, Brock U., Canada)
Eric Massie (UCSB), "The Bonds that Bind: Slavery and Familial Relations in the Persian Gulf, 19th and 20th Centuries": Massie drew from 1920s records on ~1000 slaves, compiled in south Iran by British consular officers, to paint a picture of slavery and its management structures, including the use of slaves for reproduction, in the Persian Gulf region. The data can be said to also cover the late 1800s, given that some of the slaves in question were quite old when cataloged. Massie shows that, as international treaties banned the importation of slaves, owners resorted to slave reproduction within their households in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar (SBCC), "Temporary and Permanent Marriages at the Court of Fath Ali Shah Qajar": Eskandari-Qajar, a descendant of his subject (Fath Ali Shah), asked for considering the nuances of slavery and associated temporary marriages, although he took pains to explain that he is not an apologist for either. He went on to assert that temporary marriages in 19th-century Iran, particularly in the royal court, should not be criticized on the basis of today's norms.
Anthony A. Lee (UCLA), "Ziba Khanum of Yazd: An Enslaved African Woman in Nineteenth-Century Iran": Lee began by relating that most Iranians are surprised to learn about slavery, particularly the presence of African slaves, in Iran. The demand in the 19th century was primarily for female slaves, as domestic servants for the rich, and for eunuchs. Male slaves to work in the pearl-diving industry came later in the 20th century. The story of Ziba Khanum, a slave who gave birth to a son who later became rich and successful, is a previously undocumented case study for slavery in Iran. Here, we see a slave who was "um walid" (with child from her master) whose son did not inherit from the slavemaster/father, even though the master did recognize the child as his son. Instead, the son moved out, joined the Baha'i community in Palestine, became a wealthy merchant, and enabled his mother to move out.
Discussion: The distinction between field slaves and domestic slaves came up, as being applicable everywhere and not just in Iran and other parts of the Middle East. The latter type enjoyed higher status, often becoming sexual partners of their masters or the masters' children. It was also pointed out that talking about "domestic slaves" may sugar-coat a practice that is just as exploitative as other kinds of slavery.
Ladan Rahbari (U. Ghent, Belgium), "All the King's Slaves: Vulnerability and Sexual Captivity during the Safavid Period" [Rahbari was not in attendance due to visa problems, but her written paper was read by Eric Massie in the time allotted to Panel 2]: Ethnicity of slaves affected their status and rights. Dark-skinned slaves/eunuchs were trusted to be in the inner court, whereas lighter-skinned slaves were used to guard the outer court. Sometimes, free men were castrated and sold into slavery. People in debt were also enslaved at times as a way of repaying their debt.
[10:45-11:00] Coffee and tea
[11:00-11:45] Panel 2: Manumission and Murder: The Legal Boundaries of Slavery
Chair: Ahmad Atif Ahmad (Dept. Religious Studies, UCSB)
Ozgul Ozdemir (Stanford U.), "Murder in the Palace: The Trial of a Sudanese Eunuch and the Position of Enslaved Africans in the Ottoman Palace" [Ozdemir was not in attendance]
Ismail Warscheid (National Center for Scientific Research, France), "Saharan Qadis and their Proteges: Women, Orphans, Slaves in the Islamic Courts of Tuwat, Southern Algeria (1750-1850)": Much can be learned from Islamic legal documents and fatwas about the history of women and other marginalized groups in the Middle East and North Africa. Warscheid's field work in southern Algeria has revealed interesting dependencies and tensions between individual rights and authority structures.
[11:45-12:30] Panel 3: Prostitution and Erotic Performance in the Late Ottoman Empire
Chair: Juan Campo (Dept. Religious Studies, UCSB)
Orlin Sabev (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences), "Imperial Power and Non-Manageable Lust: Prostitution in Late Ottoman Society": Sabev observed that punishment for prostitution often entailed deportation and, less frequently, execution. People were told that prostitutes could be killed with impunity. Later, tightly managed brothels were allowed as a practical strategy for dealing with a problem that could not be eradicated.
Erik Blackthorne-O'Barr (Columbia U.), "Between the Street and the Stage: Erotic and Sexual Performance in Late Ottoman Istanbul": Sexual/Erotic performances were sometimes embedded inside more conventional acts, thereby giving them legitimacy. Certain low-brow, apolitical acts were exempted from censorship, because they were viewed as non-threatening to the nationalistic narrative.
[12:30-2:00] Lunch
Participants in Saturday morning's panel at UCSB's Iranian Studies Initiative Conference Friday afternoon, October 19, 2018
[2:00-2:30] Keynote lecture
Chair: Janet Afary (Director, Iranian Studies Initiative, UCSB)
Speaker: Joanna de Groot (Dept. History, U. York) "'Servitude'?, 'Slavery'?, 'Sexual Labor'?: Reflections on the Uses and Usefulness of these Terms for the Study of Iran and the Middle East": Notions of coercion, human trafficking, and commerce intersect with another set of notions, namely, family, marriage, the household, personal desire, and intimacy, in the field of sexual relations. Power relations, as reflected in class-, race-, and gender-based regimes of enslavement and subordination, play dominant roles in all aspects of sexual servitude/labor.
[2:30-3:30] Panel 4: Framing Slavery and Prostitution in Photography, Literature, and Film in Qajar Iran and Zanzibar
Chair: Anthony A. Lee (Dept. History, UCLA)
Pedram Khosronejad (Oklahoma State U.), "Photographs as Objects of Sexual Desire in Iran (1860s -1970s)": Khosronejad, who also curated a photo exhibit in which photography or video-recording was disallowed, described how the passion for photography developed among the Qajar royals and spread from there to the general public, leading to the establishment of several photographic studios. Today, we distinguish several categories of nude photos (erotic, nude art, pornography), although the boundaries are quite fuzzy. In the Qajar-era Iran, all nude photos were referred to as "sovar-e ghabiheh" (forbidden images). Nasser al-Din Shah personally photographed his harem women in various states of nudity. Some of these nude photos have become public, although this was likely not his intention.
Staci Gem Scheiwiller (California State U., Stanislaus), "Photography and Prostitution in Qajar Iran (1785- 1925)": Photography changed the face of prostitution in Qajar-era Iran, because it allowed common prostitutes to achieve fame and name recognition, becoming "visual celebrities." Nude photos were publicly traded, and nude photography was viewed as a kind of pimping. Safavid-era Isfahan had a surprisingly large number of prostitutes. Prostitution was rampant and largely unregulated in the Qajar era. Women were described through the dichotomy of public woman ("faahesheh") and private woman ("najeeb"), when public space was synonymous with male space. In a way, through their rebellious breaking of norms, sex workers foreshadowed the liberated modern Iranian women.
Emily O'Dell (Yale U.), "Memories of Slavery in Zanzibar Rendered in Literature, Testimonials, and Film": O'Dell, who has lived for several years in Oman, where slavery was a taboo topic for discussion until very recently, related that Doha, Qatar, now boasts a museum of slavery. Stories of slavery are preserved in photos, films, and novels. Not all such stories are accurate and, indeed, some are hotly contested. As an example, O'Dell cited "Africa Addio," a 1966 film (sometimes characterized as a "shockumentary") about the end of the colonial era in Africa, which includes footage of the Zanzibar Revolution and associated massacres.
[3:30-3:45] Coffee and tea
[3:45-4:45] Panel 5: Sex Traffic and Unfree Labor in the Contemporary Middle East (1)
Chair: Eileen Boris (Dept. Feminist Studies, UCSB)
Kathryn Hain (Independent Scholar), "The longue duree of Sex Slavery in the Muslim Mediterranean": The French expression "longue duree" is used in historical writing as a synonym for "the long term." Possession of a large numbers of slaves, particularly concubines and eunuchs, sometimes numbering in the hundreds or even thousands, was a status symbol among Muslim rulers and elites. The official end of royal harems came in the early 1900s, although the practice of owning slaves and sex workers did not completely disappear.
Sawsan Karimi (U. Bahrain), "Slavery and Colonialism: An Anthropological Review" [was not in attendance]
Sriyani Tidball (U. Nebraska-Lincoln), "Slavery of Sri Lankan Housemaids in the Middle East": Sri Lankan domestic and sex workers in the Persian Gulf region and several other Middle Eastern countries are exploited, in large part because the government of Sri Lanka isn't motivated to deal with the abuse. The reason is primarily economic, as such workers constitute one of the three pillars of the country's economy. In addition to being exploited overseas, such workers face harassment and hostility upon returning home.
Discussion: It was pointed out that one should not think that slave trade ended because the British outlawed it. In fact, after slavery was outlawed, slave trade increased substantially, expanding into Iran and other parts of the Middle East.
[4:45-5:00] Coffee and tea
[5:00-6:00] Panel 6: Sex Traffic and Unfree Labor in the Contemporary Middle East (2)
Chair: Alison Brysk (Dept. Global Studies)
Muhammad Ala Uddin (U. Chittagong, Bangladesh), "Slavery, Sex, and Remittance: Exploring the Plight of the Bangladeshi Women Migrants in the Middle East": The plight of Bangladeshi women is quite similar to those of Sri Lankan women, discussed in the previous talk. Some 70% of these women experience physical abuse and about 25% report sexual assault by their masters and the masters' relatives/friends. Many ended up returning home without pay, where they were further stigmatized by their own community, because they were assumed to have performed sexual labor while away.
Kevin Dupont (The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts U.), "A Life of Glitz and Horror: An Examination of Female Trafficking into the GCC States and the Levant" [GCC stands for "Gulf Cooperation Council"]: Sex workers, lured to the Persian Gulf region in search of opportunities and good pay, soon find out that such opportunities do not exist. Instead, they are trapped in forced sex and servitude. The extensive black market provides the monetary motive for traders, while the US and other countries avoid intervening in human security issues. Thus, the widespread abuse is very difficult to stop.
Martin Jorgensen (Aalborg U., Denmark), "A Few Bad Apples? UN Peacekeepers, Prostitution and Sexual Abuse in the Gaza Strip, Cairo and Beirut": The widespread abuse by UN peacekeeping force (in the late 1950s and 1960s) was exacerbated by alcohol use and a "boys will be boys" attitude on the part of higher-ups. UN blamed the sex workers and not the peacekeepers and seemed to be primarily worried about the VD epidemic, rather than the well-being of the local population. It essentially aimed to protect its workforce from women, not the other wary around. Similar conduct by international agencies continues to this day.
Discussion: Governments which are pro-active in negotiating working conditions and worker safety with the Persian Gulf states have been able to secure some measure of protection for their migrant workers. On another front, while the protection of female migrant workers is indeed quite important, male migrant workers face similar abuse, in much larger numbers. Although, it must be mentioned that men at least have a chance to spend time in groups outside working hours, whereas women are often confined to their masters' quarters even after hours. Child labor is also a serious problem.
[6:00-8:30] Dinner at the Faculty Club and Performance by UCSB's Middle East Ensemble
Poster for the 'Unveiling the Veiled' photo exhibition Saturday, October 20, 2018
Pedram Khosronejad (curator), "Unveiling the Veiled: Royal Consorts, Slaves and Prostitutes in Qajar Photographs"
Location: UCSB Room: Alumni Hall
Here are links, provided by Dr. Khosronejad, in lieu of the UCSB exhibit in which photography and video recording was disallowed. Photos and captions: Part 1, Part 2; Guardian interview
[9:30-10:30] Coffee and tea
Chair: Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar (Santa Barbara City College)
Speakers: Pedram Khosronejad (Oklahoma State U.); Houman M. Sarshar (Founder/Director of Kimia Foundation)
The photos in the exhibit, as well as the larger collection from which they were drawn, are private and were taken in natural settings. This is how Nasser al-Din Shah's wives and slaves dressed on a daily basis. Other than the poses, nothing else is staged. Only recently the existence of these photos, previously possessed by private collectors, has become public knowledge. There are a dozen or so researchers worldwide who study Qajar-era photography, doing so mostly in the historical context. Very few are looking at the social significance of these photos (women's status, slavery, sex).
Houman Sarshar, an independent scholar and founder of Kimia Foundation (which apparently does not have an on-line presence), related that he bought some 5000 Qajar-era photographs, now forming part of the Foundation's resources. The set includes complete albums that tell fascinating stories. A 2-volume book based on these photos is being published. Volume 1 will contain a definitive biography of Doust-Ali Khan Moayer al-Mamalek (Nezam al-Dowleh), a skilled photographer who kept in touch with other photographers around the world. Volume 2 will cover his architectural photos, among other things.
[10:30-12:00] Roundtable Discussion on the Exhibition
Chair: Janet Afary (Director, Iranian Studies Initiative, UCSB)
Speakers: Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar, Pedram Khosronejad, Houman M. Sarshar, Staci Gem Scheiwiller, Behnaz Mirzai, Anthony A. Lee, Joanna De Groot
Many different viewpoints about the photo collection and exhibit were expressed during the discussion. One view was that displaying nude photos of women, in many cases without the mention of any names, objectifies them, given that the average viewer may not think that there is a deeper narrative involved. A counterpoint view was that the women were called by different names in different settings, so their real names are unknown for the most part. Photo studios which owned nude photo collections sometimes assigned random names to the women, much like numbers, for identification purposes. A customer would go looking for photos of this or that woman. Such names were created solely for the purpose of male consumption and had nothing to do with the subject women's identities.
In these photos, we are looking at the women through the eyes of the king: What he wanted us to see or, perhaps, what he wanted to see himself. Whether the women were the king's permanent or temporary wives, they had prominent places in the court, thus making them different from European or Ottoman concubines. Anthony Lee argued that in depictions of slavery in the US, it would be inconceivable not to include names, even if given slave names, and other textual information that would provide context for the exhibited images. Absence of such data would be deemed a denigration of the voiceless subjects. Others argued that there exists substantial information about the lives of harem women and slaves of the Qajar era that should have been posted alongside the photos to provide context.
[12:30 PM] Janet Afary, Closing remarks

2018/10/19 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Are you ready to shift your complaints from the heat to the cold? (Cartoon from 'The New Yorker') Pumpkins, as we approach Halloween, Thanksgiving, and pumpkin-spice-latte season! Time magazine's cover photo, issue of October 22, 2018, warns that even when Trump is gone, Trumpism will linger on. (1) Cartoons: [Left] Are you ready to shift your complaints from the heat to the cold? (From: The New Yorker) [Center] Pumpkins, as we approach Halloween, Thanksgiving, and pumpkin-spice-latte season! [Right] Time magazine's cover photo of October 22, 2018, warns that even when Trump is gone, Trumpism will linger on.
(2) It seems that the US gave the Saudis just enough time to manufacture a story about Jamal Kashoggi's murder: He started a fight at the Saudi consulate in Ankara, which led to his death!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- "Fingerprints" of 3D printers will facilitate tracing 3D-printed guns.
- Cartoon of the day: Nikki Haley, who helped gut the US image in the global community, is leaving. [Image]
- Second cartoon of the day: Tsunami of plastic trash. [Image]
- Iranian variety TV of yore: Fereydoun Farrokhzad is featured in this 10-minute video compilation.
(4) Image and video forensics: On Thursday, October 18, 2018, Dr. Hany Farid (Professor and Chair of Computer Science Department at Dartmouth) spoke in the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind seminar series, under the title "Reining in Social-Media Abuses: From Fake News, to Extremism, and Child Exploitation." This is a very timely topic and Dr. Farid's research on the subject is first-rate. Among Dr. Farid's accomplishments, as Senior Adviser for the Counter Extremism Project, is the unveiling of a software tool for use by Internet and social-media companies to find and eliminate extremist content used to spread and incite violence and attacks.
Photos are compared via their signatures, using schemes such as MD5 hash, which count on identical photos producing identical or very similar signatures. In dealing with child pornography, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible with today's technology, to automatically identify images that constitute undesirable content. It is much easier, however, to stop redistribution, which is a significant fraction of images posted by those involved in child pornography. Given a database of previously identified pornographic images, one needs to compare signatures of new content with the signatures of images in the database, setting a match threshold for screening. PhotoDNA does a very good job in such matchings; its practical use has led to the elimination of more than 10 million images in 2017 alone.
Comparing videos is much harder than images, because of the large number of frames involved. However, given that video imagery does not change much from one frame to the next (especially in the typical terrorism-related videos, where one person stands and delivers a message), it is possible to remove much content by focusing on "key frames." Clearly, the key frames chosen from two different videos may not be the same, leading to different numerical sequences for two similar videos. A process similar to DNA sequence matching can be employed to establish the degree of similarity. Interestingly, such algorithms have been used successfully to compare encrypted videos directly.
We are now at a point that highly realistic fake videos can be produced by tools such as DeepFake, where a speaker says whatever we want him/her to say. The current scheme takes an actual video of the speaker and modifies the lip movements to match the new narrative, spoken by an impersonator. The way digital cameras and video recorders work, we can distinguish such modified elements, but there is a real arms race in progress between fakers and those whose mission is to detect fakery.
Unfortunately, social media companies lack incentives to stop the distribution of harmful content. For example, Facebook was told about violence against the Rohingya, largely fueled by social-media posts, but did nothing about it for a long time. There is a delicate balance between ensuring free speech and providing safety to users. Child pornography and beheadings are clearly wrong, but the boundary isn't so clear in every case. We need to work on finding a happy medium. It is quite telling that our tech industry protected copyright owners before it protected children! [Images]

2018/10/18 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. Statue of John Lennon in Cuba Calligraphic rendering of a verse by Mowlavi (Rumi)
PhotoShopped or real image? That is the problem (1) Art/curiosities from around the world: [Left] Statue of John Lennon in Cuba. [Center] Calligraphic rendering of a verse by Mowlavi (Rumi). [Right] PhotoShopped or real image? That is the question! Can you explain?
(2) Parvin Bakhtiarnejad dead at 56: Here's the PDF file of the late women's-rights activist's third book, Tragedy of Silence: Honor Killings (in Persian), which she published on-line after Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance denied her a publication permit.
(3) Quote of the day: "Patience is not sitting and waiting, it is foreseeing. It is looking at the thorn and seeing the rose, looking at the night and seeing the day." ~ Shams Tabrizi
(4) Tweet of grammatically-challenged Trump parsed: He ends his tweet, gloating over the dismissal of Stormy Daniels' defamation lawsuit against him, while also insulting her looks, thus: "She knows nothing about me, a total con!" He is admitting that he is "a total con"!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Misogyny/racism in full view: Top Republicans join President Trump in mocking Senator Elizabeth Warren.
- Republicans talk like Democrats on issues such as healthcare and #MeToo, at least until the midterms.
- Ayatollah Putin: "Aggressors against Russia will be destroyed and Russians will go to heaven as martyrs."
- If only our politicians were as enlightened as those on TV fiction: Nationalism isn't the same as patriotism.
- MIT's new AI college to train "bilingual" scientists, conversant in computing and another scientific field.
- Sad and joyous at the same time: Deprived children use their ingenuity to make up for lack of resources.
(6) Spotting fake videos is getting harder: It's a virtual arms race between fake-content creators and academics bent on exposing them. Computer scientist Siwei Lyu wrote a paper about how the unnatural eye-blinking rates of fake videos could be used for detection, and posted the paper on-line. Weeks later, fake-video software had evolved to remove the problem. [See my post of tomorrow about image and video forensics.]
(7) John Bolton and John Kelly get into a shouting match at the White House: Trump who witnessed at least part of the altercation feigns ignorance; Sarah Sanders blames the Democrats!
(8) [Final thought for the day] Judgment is just lazy thinking: When you see something new, your brain goes into overdrive until you identify it and assign a noun to it ("Oh, that's a fork"); you then relax and stop thinking. The same is true with regard to people ("Oh, that's a Latino/feminist/Republican"). Stoppage of thinking at this point makes you miss all the nuances.

2018/10/17 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Heart equation Einstein explained: Energy = More coffee (more even!) Schrodinger's cat (1) A few important equations explained: [Left] Heart equation. [Center] Energy = More coffee (more even!) [Right] Schrodinger's cat.
(2) Underground cities in Iran's Isfahan Province: The Koohpayeh underground city, located 4-16 meters deep, was apparently built as a war shelter. This one, in Kord-e-Olia village, is similar in layout and architecture to Rome's Catacombs.
(3) The early years of Donald Trump, the self-made billionaire: He started right away after being born, built an entrepreneurial lemonade stand at six, then had a successful paper route, an exclusive tree-house club for pals who could afford the fees, and a little help from the Tooth Fairy! [Five cartoons from The New Yorker]
(4) China's 'artificial moon' will replace street lamps in a very wide area on Earth. Russia experimented with, and ultimately failed in deploying, a similar system in the early 1990s. Much has changed since then, both in satellite technology and in our ability to finely control thousands of small mirrors for precision lighting.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Terrorism in Crimea: Lone 18-year-old kills 18 people by gun and bomb attack on a college campus.
- A man with that face, hair, and body should not insult women for their physical appearance!
- Beto O'Rourke attacks Ted Cruz during debate via referring to him by his Trump-given nickname.
- WP runs a new Jamal Khashoggi column in which he warns that Middle East governments silence the media.
- This is what a tsunami does to cars and everything else on its path of destruction. [Video]
- A Republican group invites Gavin McInnes, founder of the violent neo-fascist gang The Proud Boys, to speak.
(6) "White Right: Meeting the Enemy": This 60-minute film, screened tonight at UCSB's Multicultural Center Theater, tells the story of the daughter of a Pakistani immigrant who joins racist groups to try to understand their viewpoints and strategies. Quite informative and eye-opening!
(7) World Music Series: Today's noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl featured the Santa-Barbara-based group Ewe Drums and Dance ("Ewe" is pronounced "eh-weh"). Ewe music, from certain regions of Africa, is explained in one of these photos. This 4-minute video shows a sample music/dance from today's performance.

2018/10/16 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Fall colors in Utah, USA Spring colors near Kermanshah, Kurdistan Province, Iran Summer fruits and vegetables on display in Tajrish Bazaar, north Tehran, Iran (1) Our beautiful Earth: [Left] Fall colors in Utah, USA. [Center] Spring colors near Kermanshah, Kurdistan Province, Iran. [Right] Summer fruits and vegetables on display in Tajrish Bazaar, north Tehran, Iran.
(2) Digital literacy: One of the most successful and widespread efforts to make the general public computer-literate was implemented in the former Soviet Union, when, beginning in 1985, ninth graders took a compulsory course entitled "Basics of Informatics and Computing Technology." At the time, very few Soviet households or even schools had personal computers, so programmable calculators, such as the Elektronika B3-34 filled in the void. [Source: IEEE Spectrum, issue of October 2018]
(3) A woman by any other name: Islamic Republic of Iran officials tend to refer to women as "baanovaan" (plural of "baanoo"). On the surface, "baanoo" appears to be more respectful than "zan" (similar to "lady" versus "woman"), but much sexism is hidden in the word and the way it is used.
(4) Whither computer-aided instruction? For much of the 20th century, people wanted to replace the chalkboard, the textbook, and the teacher with computers. What happened? [Opinion piece by Roderick N. Crooks (UC Irvine), "Critical Failure: Computer-Aided Instruction and the Fantasy of Information," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 40, No. 2, 2018.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Saudis' latest defense: We did not intend to kill Kashoggi; we just wanted to kidnap him for interrogation!
- Colbert on Trump's comments re Senator Warren: Who cares? You sir! You're literally the only one!
- John Oliver's brilliant monologue on the relationship between Trump and Saudi Arabia. [18-minute video]
- Sign of the times: Haji Mohammad's shishlik, advertised on large high-tech display board in Iran.
- Quote of the day: "The true delight is in the finding out rather than in the knowing." ~ Isaac Asimov
(6) "Harlan County, USA": This classic and highly acclaimed 1976 documentary was screened at UCSB's Pollock Theater tonight. The film is about the struggles of coal-mining communities of Appalachia (including very active and vocal woman), which led to improvements in wages and mine-safety regulations. Director Barbara Kopple presents an intimate portrait of the communities, unions, protest organizers, and law-enforcement officers. A very interesting discussion between Betsy Taylor (Director of Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network) and moderator Alice O'Connor (History, UCSB) and audience Q&A followed the screening. Among the topics discussed were connections between the labor organization efforts depicted in the film and the Civil Rights Movement, as well as political corruption fed by the energy industry, which extended to both local/national politicians and labor-union leaders. [Photos] [Link to the full documentary on YouTube]
A few short clips I recorded at the screening: [Video clip 1] [Video clip 2] [Video clip 3] [Video clip 4]

2018/10/15 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A variation on Sudoku: Each row, column, and stream (connected set of circles) should contain all the numbers 1 to 6 Puzzle: Can you find the animal hidden in this drawing? Visual puzzle: Stare at the upper white dot in this image for a while. Then, stare at the lower white dot. Explain the faint red color you see on the lower right and the faint green color on the lower left (1) Some puzzles: [Left] A variation on Sudoku: Each row, column, and stream (connected set of circles) should contain all the numbers 1 to 6. [Center] Can you find the animal hidden in this drawing? [Right] Visual puzzle: Stare at the upper white dot in this image for a while. Then, stare at the lower white dot. Explain the faint red color you see on the lower right and the faint green color on the lower left.
(2) Our short attention span: We have already moved on past discussing Hurricane Michael, but Panama City residents continue to suffer from lack of water and electricity.
(3) Exa-ops (10^12 operations per second) barrier broken: Using climate data from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on NVIDIA tensor cores built into Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Summit supercomputer, a team of computational scientists trained the DeepLabv3+ neural network to identify extreme weather patterns from high-resolution climate simulations. The computation achieved a sustained performance very close to the peak of 1.13 exa-ops, making it the fastest deep learning algorithm ever reported.
(4) Fake news: Trump's figure of $110 billion in military contracts, cited as an excuse for not getting tough with Saudi Arabia, is all smoke and mirrors. Defense industry experts indicate that there are only a bunch of "letters of intent" at this point; no contract has been signed.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Ford Motor company chairman cancels visit to Saudi investor conference over the Khashoggi disappearance.
- Bodies of 11 deceased infants were found in the ceiling of a shuttered funeral home in Detroit.
- An icon of American retail declares bankruptcy: The catalog sales model that Sears pioneered survives.
- Data mining exposes Russian Twitter-troll campaigns in the US, Germany, and France.
- Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen dead of lymphoma at 65.
(6) Are traffic lights headed for extinction? According to the cover feature of IEEE Spectrum, issue of October 2018, communicative cars of the future will negotiate intersections, without a need for traffic lights, cutting commute times by 1/3 in the process. Cars collectively controlling their own traffic may be an idea whose time has come. What about pedestrians and bicyclists? In the short term, they will be handled by special priority provisions. Longer-term solutions may involve everyone carrying a personal navigation device. [Cover image]
(7) Elektro the Moto-Man: This 1930s robot by Westinghouse talked via pre-recorded snippets and could do a few other things too. [Source: IEEE Spectrum, issue of October 2018]

2018/10/14 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Colorful tray of fruits and vegetables Fall colors, somewhere in the eastern United States Pomegranates of various colors, and persimmons (1) Our beautiful Earth (fall colors, somewhere in the eastern United States), and its bounty, including my two most-favorite fruits (appearing on the right), which happen to be in season now.
(2) Fiftieth anniversary of the North Hall Takeover: On October 14, 1968, a group of black students barricaded themselves in North Hall on the UCSB campus to protest unequal treatment and passive-aggressive racism they faced as Black athletes and as members of the campus community at large. A UCSB conference marks this act of civil disobedience, which brought attention not only to the circumstances of black students, but also to those of their fellow classmates who did not see themselves reflected in academia.
(3) Confessions of a map aficionado: I have multiple maps at my home and at my office. A couple of decades ago, before GPS and Google Maps took over, I had a thick stack of now-obsolete AAA folding maps at home and in my car. I have kept some of those as mementos. So, I found this Web site that gives you a zoomable map of all the buildings in the US quite interesting.
(4) The girl who may become the next Maryam Mirzakhani: Zahra Zavieh, an Iranian girl from Urmia, has earned a gold medal in the International Math Olympiad. The team from Iran finished second overall. On a friend's post of this story, someone commented "Good for Silicon Valley"!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Eight members of an expedition are dead and another is missing after a snowstorm at Nepal's Mount Gurja.
- Defense Secretary James Mattis is a "sort of a Democrat" and may soon leave his post, according to Trump.
- Bodies of 11 deceased infants were found in the ceiling of a shuttered funeral home in Detroit.
- Ford Motor company chairman cancels visit to Saudi investor conference over the Khashoggi disappearance.
(6) Early Persian Printing and Typography in Europe: Interesting 19-minute lecture by Borna Izadpanah (PhD student of Professor Fiona G. E. Ross, a specialist on typography and graphic design at U. Reading, UK), delivered in September 2018, which I discovered based on feedback from a scholar, who commented on a draft of my forthcoming paper on computers and challenges of writing in Persian. I am pursuing this lecture and other information sources I have just discovered and will write about some of them as I learn more.
(7) Windy-afternoon stroll: After dining at Los Agaves in Goleta, my daughter and I walked home via the recently restored UCSB North Campus Open Space. The bridge behind us in this photo was built as part of the new trail, that goes over an extension of the Devereux Slough into the area formerly occupied by a golf course.
(8) Final thought for the day: Having made a post about the wonderful world of maps earlier today, I came across this humorous generic map of "every European city" and thought to share it too.

2018/10/13 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
(1) Book review: Picoult, Jodi, Small Great Things: A Novel, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Audra McDonald (with Cassandra Campbell and Ari Fiakos), Random House Audio, 2016.
Cover image for Jody Picoult's 'Small Great Things' [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Picoult tackles the problem of racism in a thoughtful and engaging way. Her story shows the intersection of three lives, as main characters, and a few other people who work and live with them: Ruth, a middle-aged black nurse working at the labor and delivery unit of a hospital; Turk, a racist young man whose equally racist wife gives birth to a son at the hospital; and Kennedy (first name), a female public defender who represents Ruth when the couple pursues murder charges against her.
This is a great book from which to learn about the lives and outlooks of a diverse group of people. Each chapter is written from the vantage point of one of the main characters, with overlapping narratives showing how the same events may be interpreted in widely different ways by those experiencing or witnessing them.
Ruth is a conscientious and competent professional, but she carries the burden of years of oppression and injustice, swallowing her pride and trying hard to protect her son from a similar fate. She relates the difficulties inherent in her line of work, with its 12-hour shifts, as well as the additional hurdles she faces as a black person in a still-racist society.
Turk relates stories from his youth that shaped his world outlook and his involvement in White Supremacist and other race-based hate groups. He forces the hospital staff to ban Ruth from caring for, or even touching, his newborn, by threatening to cause a scene. When staff shortages during an emergency force Ruth to administer CPR to the newborn, who later dies, the stage is set for conflict.
Kennedy, the public defender, is so busy with her career and the heavy workload it entails that she does not have time to take care of herself, causing her mom to book a massage therapy session for her to prevent a gift certificate she had gotten from expiring. She disagrees with her client about the best defense strategy (whether or not to play the race card), which creates much tension, as the courtroom drama unfolds.
This is a well-researched and carefully constructed story that conveys the various dimensions of racism and how it affects the lives of Americans, as they go about their daily lives and when they hit crisis points.
(2) You have no doubt experienced or heard about horrible PowerPoint presentations: My Persian-speaking readers will have fun (vexation?) with this PPT slide!
(3) Today's double-celebration: We celebrated, with members of our extended family and a few friends, my older son's birthday and the 30th anniversary of my immediate family's arrival in Southern California (all 30 years at our current residence in Goleta) and my work at UCSB. [Photos] David Tovar, a super-talented local musician provided the entertainment; samples follow.
["Under the Boardwalk"] ["I Blessed the Day I Found You"] ["You Look Wonderful Tonight"] ["Peaceful Easy Feeling"] ["Ring of Fire"] [An instrumental piece]

2018/10/12 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. Silencing women
Violence against women Glass ceiling in the worlds of literature and publishing, where women actually dominate (1) Red, white, and black: Interestingly, several articles I have came across recently all used the same color scheme in their illustrations. The articles were about silencing women (#MeToo, etc.), violence against women, and the glass ceiling, even in the worlds of literature and publishing, where women actually dominate.
(2) Trump is reluctant to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia for a journalist's disappearance: Rich people get mere slaps on the wrist in our justice system. Internationally, too, rich countries literally get away with murder.
(3) Mystery memo raises concerns over the Chinese ties of Broadcom, which now wants to acquire Computer Associates Technologies, a company with sensitive contracts involving the US power grid and Pentagon.
(4) When an anti-science and anti-intellectual boor takes power and surrounds himself with other dolts, climate change becomes a Chinese hoax and Kanye West emerges as a presidential adviser. Please vote!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hurricane Michael's death toll will surely rise beyond the 14 so far, as the "war zone" search continues.
- Trees and structures are mangled by Hurricane Michael, a result of the Chinese "Global Warming" hoax.
- National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report cites ineptitude/neglect in MA gas explosions.
- Another Facebook hack: Records of nearly 30 million users compromised and their data stolen.
- Encyclopedia of Big Data Technologies is on-line in full: The print version is expected in early 2019.
- My cousin Parviz Parhami was honored as a distinguished alumnus of U. Illinois in October 12 ceremonies.
(6) "It's a Scary Time for Boys": I had posted the song with this title before, but Jimmy Kimmel brought the singer/songwriter and a whole bunch of women and girls to his show to sing this version.
(7) Trump teaches his version of American history, with a nod to Brett Kavanaugh's drinking problem: When other generals failed, heavy-drinker Ulysses S. Grant defeated "the great general" Robert E. Lee.
(8) Quote of the day: "I'm a mother and a first lady, and I have much more important things to think about and to do." ~ Melania Trump, sidestepping a question about her husband's affairs
(9) Final thought for the day: The US is no longer on the top-20 list of the most democratic countries. Donald Trump is taking us towards his friends at #159 (Saudi Arabia) and #167 (North Korea). [Chart]

2018/10/11 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iranian girl Girl from unknown region, 1 Girl from unknown region, 2 (1) Happy International Day of the Girl 2018: Hoping that someday, all the girls around the world will have much to smile about! [International Business Times report]
(2) UCSB's environmental leadership: Nearing completion on its ecological restoration of a former golf course, UCSB opens the first public trail at North Campus Open Space.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Aerial video shows Hurricane Michael's widespread destruction of Mexico Beach, Florida.
- "Her": A new song and music video against sexual misconduct and for believing the victims.
- Persian music: I have posted this song before, but this rendition is warm and heartfelt.
- A memorable rock-n-roll song, "I Saw Her Standing There," performed by the giants of rock-n-roll.
Cover image of Temple Grandin's 'Calling All Minds' (4) Book review: Grandin, Temple, Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Ann Richardson, Listening Library, 2018. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Mary Temple Grandin [1947-now], Professor of animal science at Colorado State University and consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, has been featured in several films, including one bearing her name (2010), "In the Woods" (2012), and "Speciesism: The Movie" (2013).
In this book, Grandin aims to inspire young readers to put down their phones and to pick up scissors, glue, milk cartons, and other tools/materials to build some of the things she herself worked on as a kid, relating her own experiences and challenges as she tried the projects. Some two-dozen projects, grouped into five sections (paper, wood, levers/pulleys, objects that fly, and optical illusions) are presented, along with descriptions of underlying inventions and patents. An accompanying PDF file includes drawings, photos, and images of patent applications.
As a spokesperson for autism, Grandin has given many seminars and talks, including this 20-minute TED talk, entitled "The World Needs All Kinds of Minds." She is not the best speaker, because, as she indicates in her talk, she is a visual, detail-oriented thinker and has trouble dealing with abstractions. But, it's still good to hear her views and learn about her success story.

2018/10/10 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Analog design depicting Donald Trump The new Canadian flag since Trump's election Digital design depicting Donald Trump (1) Graphic designs: Analog and digital Donald Trump, and the new Canadian flag since his election.
(2) Time magazine's October 15, 2018, report "50 Genius Companies" is an excellent read. I was particularly intrigued by: 23andMe (Unlocking DNA for all); Agriprotein (Turning waste into feed); Apeel Sciences (Keeping fruit fresh); Impossible Foods (Artificial "meat"); Obvious (Algorithm-generated art)
(3) Panama City Beach, a town where my younger son lived for 3 years in the early 2010s, is torn to pieces by category-4 (almost 5) Hurricane Michael, the strongest storm ever to hit the Florida Panhandle. Unusually, the Hurricane was still category-3, way after moving inland to Georgia.
(4) Ranking of healthcare efficiency in world economies: Lighter shades of blue in this map are better. The US is unfortunately ranked very low. For the definition of efficiency and other details, see this Bloomberg report.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Dow Jones Industrial average fell 832 points today in third worst day by points ever.
- US sanctions: Iran sends 200 tons of medicine and med supplies to Iraq, amid severe domestic shortages.
- Women are sending thank-you postcards to Kavanaugh accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
- US resident and WaPo reporter Jamal Khashoggi goes missing after visiting the Saudi Consulte in Turkey.
- Persian music: Female vocalist is accompanied by violin and traditional Iranian instruments. [Video]
- Persian music: A modern arrangement of the oldie "Bordi az Yaadam" (performed by Hooshmand Aghili).
- World Music Series: Today's noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl featured Los Catanes Del Norte. [Video]
(6) "UCSB Reads" book for 2019: The just-announced selection is The Best We Could Do, an illustrated memoir, taking the form of a comic book, by Thi Bui.
(7) Cartoon from 2017: [Donald Trump, facing a bunch of people holding signs that say Trump is wrong on Iran, torture, Russia, the border wall, ... ] Trump: "Lying media!" Aide: "That's your cabinet ... " [Image]
(8) Musical response to the "It's a Scary Time for Boys": It has been a scary time for girls and women throughout the recorded history, so, my fellow men could surely bear the pressure, if there is indeed any pressure, for a few weeks or months! [Video]
(9) Final thought for the day: If sexual assault is such a horrible act that mere allegation of it "ruins a man's life," can you imagine what the act itself does to a woman's life?

2018/10/09 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Ignoring the fact that investigative methods and science can resolve the so-called 'he said, she said' cases Cartoon: Trump attacks Brett Kavanaugh's accusers Sweeping sexual assault allegations under the rug (1) On sexual assault: [Left] Ignoring the fact that investigative methods and science can resolve the so-called 'he said, she said' cases. [Center] Trump viciously attacks Brett Kavanaugh's accusers. [Right] Sweeping sexual assault allegations under the rug.
(2) India's Supreme Court rules that a biometric database containing fingerprints and eye scans of more than 1 billion citizens does not violate the right to privacy. [Source: Time magazine, issue of October 8, 2018]
(3) Quote of the day: "A book is not improved when it becomes a movie. A book is something that stimulates creativity in the reader. The movie—you have everything already." ~ Paulo Coelho, in Time magazine interview
(4) Call to action: The Kavanaugh confirmation hearing has energized the right, which is spending lavishly to defeat Senator Heidi Heitkamp, as punishment for her "no" vote. Keep your eye on the prize: Vote, and contribute to the extent you can.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Trump agenda:   Ruin the Presidency. ✔   Ruin the Congress. ✔   Ruin the Supreme Court. ✔
- Hurricane Michael headed toward Panama City on the Florida Panhandle: The Carolinas also threatened.
- Couple arrested in Mexico with baby stroller full of human body parts may have killed up to 20 women.
- A call-to-action essay by Suzy Evans, lawyer, historian, author, and literary agent.
- For once, Trump apologizes: But it's to Brett Kavanaugh, on behalf of America!
- Hot off the press: New updated edition of Trump's The Art of the Deal. Cover cartoon]
- With their roles in transportation diminishing, donkeys are bred for their medicinally potent milk. [Video]
- Trevor Noah's monologue about Trump's claim that the most powerful men on Earth are being victimized.
(5) [Joke of the day] Sarah: "Whenever one door closes another one opens!" Jill: "That's nice, but until you fix it, I'm not buying this car."
(7) Tweeters are doing harm to the Persian language: Granted, there are certain technical terms that do not have (good or widely-accepted) Persian equivalents, but tweets such as this one are ridiculous!
(8) Iranian politics mirrors what's happening in the US: A female member of Iran's parliament has received death threats for voting "yes" on a bill that aims to curtail corruption, money-laundering, and support for domestic and international terrorism. [Persian tweet]
(9) Final thought for the day: A post claimed that Persian is the only language in which you can form a long sentence using verbs only. This 19-verb sentence isn't properly formed, but still fun to contemplate!

2018/10/08 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Lady Liberty laments over what happened to Lady Justice Photo: Stalling of women's rights progress The best defense is teaching girls to read (1) Women's rights: [Left] Lady Liberty laments over what happened to Lady Justice. [Center] Stalling of women's rights progress. [Right] The best defense is for girls to be educated about their rights.
(2) The cover image of a book about Iran piqued my interest: Will try to locate it. [The Iranian Metaphysicals: Explorations in Science, Islam, and the Uncanny, by Alireza Doostdar, Princeton University Press, 2018]
(3) ACM issues an updated edition of its Code of Ethics: All professional societies expect ethical behavior from their members and formalize these expectations in a Code. ACM's current Code consists of a preamble and the following four sections, followed by case studies.   1. General Ethical Principles   2. Professional Responsibilities   3. Professional Leadership Principles   4. Compliance with the Code
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Twenty (17 birthday-partying friends, the driver, and 2 pedestrians) killed in upstate NY limo crash.
- Teen girl executed in Iran, after killing her abusive husband, whose brother allegedly raped her.
- The misogynists ruling Saudi Arabia for 86 years and slated to rule for another decade, at least. [Chart]
- Why not repurpose Columbus day to celebrate immigrants? After all, Columbus was an immigrant.
- Preying on the elderly: Don't ever lose sight of your purse or wallet while shopping. [Video]
- Embroidering the beauty of nature. [Vido]
- Quote of the day: "Trump has changed 'We the People' to 'Me the President'." ~ Colin Powell
(5) Here are two problems I have assigned as parts of the first homework for my graduate-level course on fault-tolerant computing. They are useful to trigger some thinking about the moral responsibilities of an engineer. These are newly designed problems that will eventually appear in my textbook on the topic.
1.24. Risks of infrastructure deterioration: In September 2018, gas explosions rocked a vast area in northeastern Massachusetts, leading to the loss of one life, many injuries, and destruction of property. Investigations revealed that just before the explosions, pipe pressure was 12 times higher than the safe limit. Using Internet sources, write a one-page report on this incident, focusing on how/why pressure monitors, automatic shut-off mechanisms, and human oversight failed to prevent the disaster.
2.26. Risks of trusting the physics of sensors: Many safety-critical systems collect data from sensors for use in making their decisions. Read the paper [Fu18] and write a one-page summary for it, focusing on safety challenges that are unique to sensors (as opposed to general risks associated with trusting technology).
[Fu18] Fu, K. and W. Xu, "Risks of Trusting the Physics of Sensors," CACM, Vol. 61, No. 2, pp. 20-23, 2018.
(6) An elaborate academic sting operation: Three professors set out to expose shady publication practices by writing bogus "papers" and having them published in top academic journals. They point their criticism at liberal arts, but the problem is much more widespread. There have been multiple successful attempts to publish nonsensical science/engineering "papers," including a few that were generated by computer programs. What causes these hoaxes to pass through the peer review of the publication process is the publish-or-perish culture in academia that leads researchers to spend as little time as possible on service activities, such as refereeing papers. The little refereeing talent available is spread very thin by the proliferation of academic journals to accommodate the flood of papers, many of which have average readership in the single digits.

2018/10/07 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon of Lady Justice under assault Cover image of a book about hidden violence against women Self-portrait of a Yezidi woman who escaped her ISIS captors. (1) Violence against women dominated the news over the past week (Kavanaugh hearing, Nobel Peace Prize): [Left] Lady Justice under assault. [Center] Cover image of a book about hidden violence against women. [Right] Self-portrait of a Yazidi woman who escaped her ISIS captors.
(2) Nobel Prize: Normally, the Literature Prize would have been announced by now, with the Economics Prize coming next week. But the Nobel Committee was forced to postpone the Literature Prize, in view of sexual assault allegations by 18 women against French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, 72, husband of Swedish Academy member Katarina Frostenson. He has already been sentenced to 2 years on one count of rape.
(3) Oil industry analyst warns that the global oil market is on a razor's edge: Strict enforcement of sanctions, or a regional crisis disrupting the supply, can easily lead to prices exceeding $100. If this happens, affected countries will blame the US for its bull-in-the-china-shop approach to economic policy.
(4) Brett Kavanaugh confirmed for lifetime Supreme Court appointment by 50-48 Senate vote: Will he be asking the other SCOTUS members upon arrival whether they like beer?
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Indonesia quake/tsunami death toll surpasses 1700, with more than 5000 still missing.
- Patrick Leahy explains the rush to confirm Kavanaugh, before additional damning evidence came out.
- Facebook fights overly-broad search warrants against anti-Trump activists, with no criminal allegation.
- An alert suburban bank teller exposes what would have been one of the biggest bank heists ever.
- [Humor] The US Supreme Court is planning a beer party to welcome Kavanaugh.
- Lady Gaga talks to Steven Colbert about "A Star Is Born" and surviving sexual assault. [Video]
- Anti-Semitism: Northern Virginia Jewish community center spray-painted with swastikas. [Photo]
- The life and work of a super-talented Iranian musician in exile: Sepideh Raissadat. [Video]
(6) Iran doesn't even let Baha'i corpses rest in peace: For 40 years, Baha'is have faced hostility and arbitrary arrests and imprisonments. Even their cemeteries are destroyed/bulldozed as a matter of course.
(7) Jonah Goldberg's lecture: Tonight, I attended an interesting and important lecture by Jonah Goldberg, Senior Editor of National Review and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who talked about his acclaimed and best-selling book, Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy. Speaking at UCSB's Campbell Hall, Goldberg warned (not that we need the warning, as we witness first-hand what is happening in the US) that, as the United States and other democracies surrender to populism, nationalism, and other forms of tribalism, they are in danger of losing the will to defend the values and institutions that sustain freedom and prosperity. According to Goldberg, a staunch conservative, who takes pains to explain that conservatism and the Republican Party are not the same thing, our Constitution and the values it espouses put us at the peak of a mountain and from that peak, every path leads downward. Democracy must be nurtured and taught in order to survive, as every baby is born with tribalism instincts pre-wired in his/her brain. There are a lot of other important points from the lecture that I could write about, but it would take me many pages. Do go hear him, or read his book, if you get a chance.

2018/10/06 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine cover image for its October 8, 2018, issue (1) With Time magazine's cover of the October 15, 2018, issue featuring the words of Dr. Blasey Ford going viral on the Internet (see my blog post of yesterday), the equally important October 8 cover got lost in the shuffle. It stresses the need to update the US Constitution to make women's rights explicit, rather than subject to interpretation.
(2) Nobel Peace Prize: Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad win the 2018 Prize for fighting sexual violence. Quoting from The Guardian about Dr. Mukwege: "With violence against women resurgent and the US president fueling misogyny, this man is an inspiration ... an extraordinary man who has risked everything to heal, cherish and honor women. It is a call to men across the planet to do the same." Murad relates how she reclaimed her life, after 7 members of her family were murdered and she became a sex slave to ISIS captors. Here is part of Murad's book, The Last Girl, with a foreword by Amal Clooney, who characterizes ISIS as "evil on an industrial scale." Hats off to this young woman, whose bravery stands in stark contrast to the cowardice of many of our politicians condoning acts and policies they know to be morally wrong, because they fear losing the next election!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Too late? The American Bar Association reconsiders its opinion of Kavanaugh. [Letter]
- A new cell-phone app calls 911 automatically, if an accident knocks you out, away from help.
- [Humor] Denietol: A new med for men that helps erase unpleasant memories of sexual misconduct.
- Shadow-dancing to a decades-old song, which I remember from an Indian movie I saw in Iran. [Video]
- Riddle of the day: What gets dirtier after it is washed?
- Artists in Isfahan produce art from many different materials: Here is one who creates metallic carpets.
(4) Misogynistic headline: "Susan Collins Consents" is how The Wall Street Journal reports the latest development in the Brett Kavanaugh Senate confirmation saga.
(5) The out-of-touch old white men: Senate Judiciary Committee chair Grassley believes that his committee's workload is too heavy for women! These dinosaurs must be voted out and replaced with non-extinct species.
(6) The fig-leaf investigation: FBI's investigation of allegations against Kavanaugh was nothing but a fig leaf for the Republicans to cover themselves, but, with the very limited list of individuals the FBI was allowed to contact, the fig leaf turned out to be too small. They are still pretty much exposed!

2018/10/05 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The impact of sexual assault survivors' words: Time magazine cover image (1) Time magazine's October 15, 2018, cover image depicts the impact of sexual assault suvivors' words.
(2) Food waste: Some 40% of the food produced in the US is thrown out. Reducing this waste would take us a long way toward solving many of our problems, including hunger and pollution. [Video]
(3) Another mysterious death: A Russian Deputy Attorney General, thought to have directed attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, involved in the infamous Trump-Tower meeting and other plots abroad on behalf of Russia's government, has died in a helicopter crash.
(4) Is Thomas Edison in hell or in heaven? This question is addressed by an Iranian cleric. According to his reading of Islam, non-Muslims cannot go to heaven, but their suffering in hell may be reduced, in part or totally, by a record of good deeds! [Video]
(5) California man, 90, implicated in the death of his stepdaughter based on her Fitbit data: The fitness device showed a significant spike in heart rate at 3:20 PM, September 8, before rapidly slowing. Surveillance videos showed that the stepfather's car was parked in his stepdaughter's driveway from 3:12 PM to at least 3:33 PM.
(6) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Adding insult to injury, Trump claims that women sharing stories of sexual assault are paid professionals.
- A new character for Sesame Street: Time monster! [Cartoon]
- Life advice memes: Positivism and balance.
- Presidential alert: Donald Trump is still president. This is not a test. Action required! [Image]
(7) The president who embarrasses us on a daily basis: Trump makes a crowd laugh at Brett Kavanaugh's accuser. That crowd is no less embarrassing, although I did spot a few women among them who were not amused. Meanwhile, the Republicans seem to be competing in going lower. A Republican official has released a fake photo of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as a teenager, implying that she was too ugly to be the target of a sexual assault! This would have been abhorrent even if the photo weren't fake.
(8) Nobel Prize: Half of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Arthur Ashkin, with the other half going to Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland, only the third woman to win the award and the first one in more than half a century. The researchers' work on lasers was praised in the Prize citation.
(9) Space elevator may become a reality: NASA has determined the concept of replacing rockets with an elevator to be sound, and both Japan and China have projects already underway. By reducing the cost of putting satellites in orbit more than 100-fold, the project should pay for itself and then some.
[Following is a Facebook post of mine from August 29, 2012, with more technical details.]
The idea of a space elevator, a cabin that goes up and down a super-strong ribbon made of lightweight material and held vertically in space because much of its weight is on the other side of Earth's geostationary orbit, was proposed several years ago (I first encountered it in 2010). It is still a pie-in-the-sky idea, but its developers are proposing to build a smaller version on the Moon, to be used for dropping items there or retrieving them for transport back to Earth. This project will be simpler, given the Moon's much weaker gravitational pull. Still, nearly $1B will be needed to implement it. [Wikipedia article about the space elevator, Earth version]

2018/10/04 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Protest sign: Women say 'Kava-nope'! Dina Katabi, winner of the 2017 ACM Prize in Computing Statue of World War II sex slaves for Japanese soldiers installed in San Francisco (1) Pictorial news stories: [Left] Protest sign: Women say "Kava-nope"! [Center] The would-be medical doctor who became an accomplished computer scientist: Dina Katabi, winner of the 2017 ACM Prize in Computing for her creative contributions to wireless systems, ranked very high in Syria's university entrance exam and went to medical school, as expected of high achievers. She left her chosen field after a year, because she wanted to do math and engineering. (Source: CACM interview, October 2018) [Right] Japan's city of Osaka has cut its "sister city" ties with San Francisco over a statue of World War II sex slaves for Japanese soldiers.
(2) Science news: Half of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Frances Arnold (Cal Tech), for work in changing how chemists produce new enzymes, and the other half to Gregory Winter (MRC Lab, Cambridge, England) and George Smith (U. Missouri), for their research that has led to new pharmaceuticals and cancer treatments.
(3) Women's rights advocate Maryam Azad was arrested at Tehran's International Airport, joining three other activists (Hoda Amid, Najmeh Vahedi, Rezvaneh Mohammadi) arrested earlier this month.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Former US Navy sailor arrested for sending toxic ricin seeds to Donald Trump and Pentagon.
- Experimental set-up shows the feasibility of direct brain-to-brain communication among three people.
- Khomeini apologist, who wrote a book in support of the fatwa to kill Salman Rushdie, lives freely in London.
- Iran installs surveillance cameras to detect women who attend soccer matches disguised as men.
- A few cartoons that need no caption. [Images]
- Brilliant accordion (Aydar Gaynullin) and violin (Darius Krapikas) conversation in Monti's Czardas.
(5) Brett Kavanaugh's Senate confirmation needs 50 votes: Here is the current outlook.
For: 48 R's; Against: 48 D's; Leaning for: Collins (R), Flake (R); Unknown: Manchin (D), Murkowski (R)
(6) Last night's IEEE meeting at Rusty's Pizza: After a 30-minute mixer with pizza and beer, Professor Benjamin Mazin of UCSB gave a talk entitled "Searching for Exosolar Earthlike Planets—Latest Developments." He began by describing the design of DARKNESS camera used to detect tiny amounts of light and minor light variations (it is installed at Palomar Observatory) and concluded by discussing methods of detecting planets outside our solar system and determining whether they can support life as we know it. Distant planets are too tiny and too faint to be observed directly, so their presence and properties are usually deduced from how they affect their stars (e.g., oscillations affecting the light spectrum, or blocking, akin to solar eclipse). [Photos]

Cover image for James L. Gelvin's 'The New Middle East' 2018/10/03 (Wednesday): Book review: Gelvin, James L., The New Middle East: What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford, 2018.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
[Note: There are multiple books with the same title as this one.]
Written by historian and author of a related volume, The Arab Uprising: What Everyone Needs to Know, this book could have been titled "The Contemporary History of the Middle East." Here, "The Middle East" is defined as spanning from Morocco on the west to Iran on the east, a region more dependent on oil revenues that any other part of the world and comprising about half a billion people. The term "The New Middle East" was coined by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and later elaborated upon in the journal Foreign Affairs by policy analyst Richard N. Haass [p. 21], when the old, relatively-peaceful ME (from the US viewpoint) came crashing down with the invasion of Iraq.
Gelvin begins by discussing the region's past, 1945-2011, which he entitles "Before the Deluge" (ch. 1, pp. 1-23) and an overview of the Arab Uprisings (ch. 2, pp. 24-49). He then discusses the Syria embroglio (ch. 3, pp. 50-81), the rise and decline of ISIS (ch. 4, pp. 82-111), patrons, proxies, and freelancers (ch. 5, pp. 112-136), and human security in the New Middle East (ch. 6, pp. 137-167). There is no separate concluding section to wrap up the discussions and to point to what might be expected in the future, perhaps because any predictions for such a volatile region may turn out to be embarrassingly inaccurate.
According to Gelvin, five elements were responsible for popular uprisings, which had the dual goals of demanding rights/democracy and pressing for better economic conditions, in the Arab world. Bear in mind, though, that none of these elements was a key cause and, even with all of them in place, the uprisings weren't inevitable. Overall, the uprisings, with the possible exception of Tunisia's, were less than successful in bringing about major structural changes. Nowhere was this failure more pronounced than in Syria, owing to it having no Tahrir-Square-like epicenter and the army not standing down [p. 83].
1. Neo-liberalism: Having taken roots in the Arab world in the 1970s, neo-liberalism and its attendant economic reforms allowed Arab countries to get connected to and benefit from international markets and sources of credit.
2. Human rights revolution: Developing in tandem with neo-liberalism since the 1970s, the human rights and democratic rights movements were used by both liberal and regressive opponents of the region's regimes to weaken them.
3. Brittleness of Arab regimes: The region's regimes were caught between recommended austerity measures on the one hand and increased demand for government services on the other. Around the same time, governments in Western countries began to fall due to popular anger. The Arab world lacked such a safety valve, as people could not oust governments (politicians), so they focused on overthrowing the regime ("nizam").
4. Demography: An increase in the number of young people under 30 and the attendant rise in unemployment and under-employment, led to economic hardships across the region.
5. Global rise in food prices: Widespread droughts around the world and changes in agricultural priorities and patterns intensified the economic hardships that had arisen from demography and rampant unemployment. These factors affected each of the region's countries in a different way. Monarchies, by and large, escaped serious consequences, in part due to using their oil wealth to buy out their opponents. However, the survival of Morocco's monarchy is a puzzle, given that the country lacks oil.
Talking about the Middle East as a whole is challenging, because the countries in the region are not homogeneous. Arab women have the least political participation in the world, yet Israeli, Turkish, and, to some extent, Iranian women are relatively active.
I will list some of the key features of the New Middle East in the next few paragraphs.
* Refugee crises [pp. 76-77]: The Syrian civil war has intensified sectarian conflicts in all countries of the region. Syrian refugees have doubled Lebanon's unemployment rate to 20% and have caused major economic hardships in Turkey and Jordan. Many Iraqi refugees who had settled in Syria were forced to seek refuge back in Iraq, hardly a safer place.
* US-Israel relations [p. 120]: The US has become wary of extending unconditional support to Israel. "Obama's administration was not the first to have abstained or supported UN resolutions critical of Israel ... George W. Bush's allowed 6 such resolutions to pass, George H. W. Bush's allowed 9, and Ronald Reagan's allowed 21."
* Human security [p. 137]: The term "security" often means the security of states and governments. The term "human security" has been coined to shift the focus to those factors that make populations unsafe. The Middle East today is the second most urbanized region in the world (after Latin America). Megapolises with very limited human services form a major cause of human insecurity.
* Water shortage and climate-change vulnerabilities [pp. 141-144]: Three Arab countries (Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait) are already below water poverty line, defined as being able to use 50 liters of water daily for drinking and personal hygiene. There is no general agreement on whether the recent temperature spikes in the region are aberrations or omens of a new normal.
* Poverty and health problems [p. 157]: Whereas income poverty prevails in the region, despite its vast natural resources, human poverty, which includes also quality of life and the sense of well-being, is even worse. The Middle East is the second most obese region in the world, after the South Pacific.
Let me end my review by quoting the book's final paragraph [p. 167]: "The breadth and depth of the protests and uprisings that have engulfed the Arab world, Iran, Turkey, and Israel indicate that agitation for good governance is not a transient or localized phenomenon in the Middle East. As such, the history of the past thirty years cannot but disturb the sleep of politicians, kings, and dictators throughout the region."

2018/10/02 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
NASA's logo This photo was taken for the departmental brochure (no Web page then!) shortly after my arrival at UCSB in 1988 Today is IEEE Day, 134 years after the founding of one of its predecessor societies in Philadelphia (1) Anniversaries galore: NASA was born 60 years ago. On October 2, 1884, members of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, a predecessor society of today's Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE = "Eye-triple-E") gathered for the first time, in Philadelphia, to exchange technical ideas. Coincidentally, this 134th IEEE Day coincides with my celebration of arriving in California exactly 30 years ago (on October 2, 1988, when my sons were ~4 and 2.5 and my daughter was –5.5) to begin work as Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UCSB. I still love the place and work. The center photo was taken for the departmental brochure (no Web page then!) shortly after my arrival at UCSB.
[P.S.: My official work anniversary is actually July 1, but visa delays led to the late arrival. A kind colleague gave the first two lectures of the computer architecture course I was scheduled to teach during fall 1988.]
(2) Shades of Charlottesville: Despite calling Dr. Blasey Ford's testimony credible and characterizing her as a fine woman right after she testified, Trump goes on the attack during a campaign rally and shreds her to pieces. It seems that once again Trump (under pressure) made a statement he didn't really believe in and is now contradicting. Look at the women sitting behind him, though. Most of them don't seem to be thrilled with Trump's character assassination.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Kavanaugh confirmation hearings gave us a glimpse of the bullying culture of privileged white men.
- eMedicare launched: On the heels of issuing new cards, Medicare moves to further embrace technology.
- A memorial at UCSB, with messages honoring the victims of the 2014 Isla Vista mass shooting.
- Dogs' intelligence is over-rated: They are not as smart as other animals.
- Invasive plant species may not be all bad: They actually help avert climate change.
- Newly discovered dwarf planet strengthens evidence for distant world.
(4) "Unfractured": This is the title of a documentary, screened early this afternoon at UCSB. The film is about the anti-fracking movement in New York and the role of one woman, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, in it. The effort led to NY's governor banning fracking in the state. The screening was followed by a discussion with the film's director, Chanda Chevannes (Seated on the right in one of these photos). Thanking the director, I shared with her something I learned from the film: That activism/protest isn't mindless sign-carrying and chanting, but involves much preparation. For example, the NY protesters would divide themselves into those who were prepared to be arrested and those who couldn't afford to. Those who expected to be taken away in handcuffs, needed to plan ahead for various commitments and their families' lives while they were gone. When law enforcement arrived on the scene, the second group quietly moved away, while the first group continued to block the gate or the road. Ms. Chevannes added that the protesters in her film underwent special training to ensure their protests remained nonviolent. The fact that the arrests were orderly and respectful drew laughter from the audience at a screening in Brazil, where the police behaves in a much different way!

2018/10/01 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Pablo Picasso's bust Before the age of drones, this is how photographers got their wide shots (1939) Sculpture: Stack of books (1) Art and its production process: [Left] Pablo Picasso's bust. [Center] Before the age of drones, this is how photographers got their wide shots (1939). (Source: Westways, 10/2018) [Right] Sculpture: Stack of books.
(2) The 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine has been awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo, who discovered different ways to unleash a patient's immune system against cancer.
(3) Sexual assault, and society's reaction to it, are now front and center in our national discourse. Let's not waste this opportunity to learn and act. [Dr. Nayereh Tohidi's Facebook post]
(4) Areas affected by the twin disasters (earthquake and tsunami) in Indonesia: People are still being dug out and the death toll of 850 is expected to rise significantly. [Map]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Scientists develop Martian soil to allow studies of Mars on Earth: And at $20/kg, it isn't dirt-cheap!
- Black waitress at Applebee's was left this note on a napkin in lieu of tip.
- Singer Charles Aznavour, who provided the soundtrack of the lives of people in my generation, dead at 94.
- Self-driving cars: Honda's AI confuses major Japanese ramen chain's logo with do-not-enter sign.
- Regardless of your circumstances, a smile can brighten your day. [Photo]
- Quote: "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." ~ Lewis B. Smedes
(6) Predators are everywhere: UCSB Chemistry Department researcher, 51-year-old Hongjun Zhou, arrested on charges of child sexual abuse.
(7) Seeing a friend after 45 years: This evening, I had dinner at Darband Grill in Thousand Oaks with half of the host family (the other half being her late husband) I had while attending UCLA in the early 1970s. It's impossible to cover 45 years of life stories over one dinner, so we'll get together again to continue the chat.

2018/09/30 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. Fashion at Longchamp Racing, Paris, 1908
Lindsay Wagner in publicity photo for Pablo Picasso with Brigitte Bardot, 1956 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Fashion at Longchamp Racing, Paris, 1908. [Center] Lindsay Wagner in publicity photo for "The Bionic Woman," London, 1976. [Right] Pablo Picasso with Brigitte Bardot, 1956.
(2) Deflection tactics: We learned over the past couple of days that Yale is full of misogynists, sexual predators, and morally bankrupt men, so "I got into Yale" is definitely not a defense against alleged sexual misconduct.
(3) Exposing unethical business practices: I have been receiving many e-mail messages from Trello (I have no idea what it is or what it does). The e-mails have no link to allow the recipient to unsubscribe.
(4) Cartoon caption of the day: He was drunk ... so he wasn't responsible for his behavior.
She was drunk ... so she's responsible for putting herself in that situation.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Death toll for Indonesia tsunami, caused by 7.5-magnitude quake, approaches 1000.
- Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have fallen in love: Kim written multiple love letters to Trump!
- The term "glacial speed" may be obsolete, because glaciers are no longer moving at glacial speed!
- A visual puzzle that has gone viral: Can you spot the pencil in this image?
- I have no idea where this is, but I find it enchanting. [Photo]
- Persian poetry: A humorous poem about rising prices having elevated the social status of tomatoes.
- This evening's sunset at Camino Real Marketplace in Goleta. [Photos]
- Quote: "Our ultimate goal is to make as many people as sad as possible when we die." ~ Anonymous
(6) The FAA Reauthorization Bill, in final stages of passage by the US Senate, will set minimum width and spacing standards for airline seats. The bill also has other provisions to help passengers and improve safety.
(7) Final thought for the day: "Ninety-nine percent of us are good-hearted people who respect others and want peace. The other one percent rule the world and tell us we're at war." ~ Lee Camp

2018/09/29 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. The Afghan girl, who became famous by being featured on the cover of 'National Geographic,' grew into a rugged woman An innovative fountain
Little Iranian girl at fig harvest time (1) Feminine beauty: [Left] The Afghan girl, who was featured on the cover of National Geographic, grew into a rugged woman. [Center] An innovative fountain. [Right] Little Iranian girl at fig harvest time.
(2) Dr. Blasey Ford used her training in psychology to answer a question: "I don't expect that P. J. and Leland would remember this evening. It was a very unremarkable party. It was not one of their more notorious parties. Nothing remarkable happened to them that evening. They were downstairs. Mr. Judge [the friend alleged to be with her and Kavanaugh during the assault] is a different story. I would expect that he would remember."
[In fact, Mark Judge may also not remember. Many men who routinely harass or assault women, have no recollection of their individual victims. To them, the women and the behavior are unremarkable.]
(3) Donald Trump: The #MeToo movement is very dangerous for powerful men! Me: Only for powerful men who are dangerous to their underlings!
(4) Republicans in a ditch continue digging: "Women are going to hold the Republicans accountable for this grotesque spectacle at the ballot box. We do not have to accept a situation in which sexual violence is dismissed, and the perpetrators could be promoted."
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Magnitude-7.5 quake and ensuing tsunami devastate Indonesia.
- Shaming the victim: Fox News' Kevin Jackson reportedly fired for this gem and other offensive tweets.
- The cult residing in Albania, plotting regime change in Iran, and endearing itself to Washington.
- This is the image the world is getting from our country: A bunch of old, angry, white men. [Meme]
- Feminism: The radical notion that women are people, not properties. [Meme]
- Borowitz report (humor): Obama saddened that Kavanaugh did not blame him at any point.
- Senator Kamala Harris' statement at the US Senate hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
- Tonight's SNL season premier opened with a spoof of Kavanaugh hearings, with Matt Damon as the judge.
(6) #MeToo moves into a new phase: Sexual assault reports have tripled since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's Senate testimony. Some very young victims indicate that their families told them to keep their mouths shut.
(7) Israelis more worried about Trump's UN speech than the rest of the world: This seems counter-intuitive at first, but their country is highly dependent on US prestige and world leadership, so any erosion in the latter makes them nervous.
(8) Store closings, left and right, in our area: Goleta K-Mart is all but gone, with 80+% of the store already liquidated. It will soon be replaced by a Target store, opening in our area for the first time. Orchard Supply Hardware isn't far behind, with the liquidation discount already at 30-60%. [Photos]
(9) Final thought for the day: Tehran University's College of Engineering anthem was performed tonight at the annual gathering of Fanni graduates in Los Angeles, an event that I could not attend. [Sheet music]

2018/09/27 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Basic Human D's & C: A new supplement for men who cannot interact with women without sexualizing them! Sign of the times: Hell hath no fury like that of 157 million women scorned Iran's President Rouhani claims that the world won't find a better friend than Iran (1) Some interesting memes: [Left] Basic Human D's & C: A new supplement for men who cannot interact with women without sexualizing them! [Center] Sign of the times: Hell hath no fury like that of 157 million women scorned. [Right] Iran's President Rouhani claims that the world won't find a better friend than Iran: The signs in the photo read "Death to America," "Death to Europe," "Death to Arab Leaders," "Death to Human Rights," etc.
(2) Kavanaugh hearing: Dr. Blasey Ford won over many members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including some Republicans (at least they said they were impressed). Kavanaugh's opening statement seemed sincere and compelling. But then, he went on the attack, screamed at the questioners, waxed political about Democrats conspiring against him, and, in one case, when asked about his drinking problem, asked back about the questioner's drinking habits. Definite no-nos!
(3) These three on-the-fence Republican Senators (Flake, Collins, Murkowski), plus one Democrat worried about his re-election in a red state, will decide Kavanaugh's fate: It's really sad that being re-elected has become more important than doing the right thing.
(4) Persian poetry: Morteza Keyvan Hashemi recites his poem in which he says, for example, that he fears ignorant religiosity, not God himself, and that he prefers knowledgeable foes to uninformed friends.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Senator Lindsey Graham's ignorant tweet about sexual assault victims and a response to it.
- Six Baha'i environmental activists arrested in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz on unknown charges.
- Exchange value for US dollar surpasses 16,000 tomans, as Iranian currency continues its nosedive.
- All this trouble, just to save a puppy: Hats off to, and Hope restored in, humanity. [Video]
- Humor: The opposite of reserved parking! [Photo]
- Cartoon of the day: "The world is laughing at us, folks." [Image]
- Persian music: Jalal Taj Esfahani's "Beh Esfahan Ro" ("Go to Esfahan").
- Traditional Persian music, in a refreshingly new way: Ali Ghamsari performs his own composition on tar.
(6) Iranian official Ataollah Mohajerani, who wrote a book in 1989 defending Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa calling for the murder of author Salman Rushdi, now lives in London.
(7) How Putin projects power through his wealthy allies: This is the theme of an article in Time magazine (October 1, 2018). These oligarchs are in turn connected to wealthy and powerful individuals around the world.
(8) Scientists observe matter (equivalent to Earth's mass) falling (in about a day) at roughly 1/3 the speed of light into a black hole a billion light years away.
(9) Iran's beautiful nature: Boojan County near Neishapour, a city in the Iranian province of Khorasan.

2018/09/26 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for Rose McGowan's 'Brave' (1) Book review: McGowan, Rose, Brave, unabridged audiobook on 6 CDs, read by the author, Harper Audio, 2018.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is a combination memoir/manifesto. McGowan, one of the strongest voices in the #MeToo movement, had the courage to escape two cults (in her own words). One was a religious cult, which brainwashed and abused her as a child. The other was the cult of Hollywood and the entertainment industry that sexualizes women and uses them for the pleasure of powerful men. Having escaped the first cult, McGowan had the skills and tools to escape the second, and to help bring down some of the said powerful men, who took advantage of their veneer of supposedly championing and mentoring new talent.
McGowan writes at length about the objectification of women and setting of unreasonable and misguided standards of beauty to keep them under control. At one point, as part of her defying what was expected of her, McGowan cut her hair really short, as she viewed a woman's hair one of the tools of her subjugation. She never mentions the name of her abuser, Harvey Weinstein, in the book, calling him "monster" instead. In the course of her fights against the entertainment industry's bigwigs, McGowan was harassed by lawyers and former Israeli spies (hired through a security firm by Weinstein to dig up dirt on her).
After the Weinstein abuse episode, McGowan thought she had found love with a man pretending to be her savior, the so-called knight in shining armor. But he proved to be a control freak and physical/emotional abuser. At one point, he subjected McGowan to a lie-detector test, because he suspected her of having an affair. According to McGowan, one trick used by powerful men is to deliberately destabilize women and then use their condition to sow doubts about their believability.
McGowan emerged from these brutal tests triumphant and respected, as she dragged down her powerful abuser. The book was eye-opening for me, even though I already supported the #MeToo movement and identified with feminism more generally.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Why does the press even cover a "news conference" during which not one question is properly answered?
- Actress Alyssa Milano shares her poem, "A Survivor's Prayer," dedicated to survivors of sexual assault.
- Trump wants to ban the production of cocoa (chocolate source): He meant to say coca (cocaine source)!
- Today on UCSB West Campus bluffs: A brisk day, with perfect weather for walking and enjoying nature.
(3) The floodgates have opened: A third woman accuser of Judge Brett Kavanaugh has come forward. This is the usual pattern. Additional victims are emboldened by those who go first. And they don't want to leave the first accuser out in the cold if they have info to support them. Kavanaugh's third accuser sounds even more credible than the first two. She describes a repetitive group behavior that will likely be corroborated, given the large number of participants and witnesses.
(4) Alternative fact: Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the UN, says laughter at the General Assembly wasn't a diss but a sign of respect for Trump's 'honesty'? Honesty? Really?
(5) Round-table discussion: Striving for Human Rights in Iran (Skirball Cultural Center, Wed. 10/10/2018, 7:00 PM). I will try my best to attend this event, which will be a challenge, given that I teach 4-5 PM on 10/10. The previous event with the same title was quite interesting and informative.

2018/09/25 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
T-shirt inscription reads: 'Make lies wrong again' Marathon cheering sign: 'Run like Donald Trump is behind you and Justin Trudeau is just ahead' US Senators and Congressional Representatives should start listening to Bob Dylan, before it's too late (1) Some interesting images, dissing politicians: [Left] T-shirt inscription reads: "Make lies wrong again." [Center] Marathon cheering sign: "Run like Donald Trump is behind you and Justin Trudeau is just ahead." [Right] US Senators and Congressional Representatives should start listening to Bob Dylan, before it's too late.
(2) Iran's President Rouhani "is an absolutely lovely man": Whether Trump is being facetious or he really admires Rouhani (like Putin and NK's Kim), he is making up the "requests" part. Rouhani requesting to meet with Trump would be a kiss of death for his government, whose cabinet ministers are facing a wave of impeachments by conservatives in Iran's parliament. He has reportedly asked for a pause in impeachment proceedings, offering to make several changes of his own upon returning from the UN meeting in New York. Iran's Supreme Leader has banned meetings with the US, and no one would dare over-ride his instructions. In the past, Iranian reps attending UN meetings have even carefully planned their bathroom visits to avoid chance encounters with Americans, which would spell doom for them back home.
(3) The President, who faulted previous administrations for making us the laughingstock of the world, was laughed at this morning at the UN, when he said he had accomplished more than any US President!
(4) Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo look at Trump with admiration during his UN speech, while a man (from a "shithole country"?) covers his face. [Photo]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A detailed description and analysis of how Russia helped swing the 2016 presidential election for Trump.
- Our Liar-in-Chief (unintentionally) makes world leaders at UN's General Assembly laugh! [Image]
- France's President Macron delivers a forceful rebuttal to Trump.
- Bill Cosby sentenced to 3-10 years in prison for 2004 rape case, meaning that he will serve at least 3 years.
- Everything you need to know about footnotes, including the fact that they were first used in the year 1347.
- Some common English words that have come from Arabic, and the paths they have taken to grt here.
- Little girl's rousing rendition of the US National Anthem at an LA Galaxy soccer match.
(6) #MeToo has made us take the first step: Listen to women. Now, we have to take additional steps and do something beyond listening. Bill Cosby's conviction and sentencing is just a start. Much more is needed.
(7) College soccer: UCSB men's soccer team played Gonzaga, a traditionally strong soccer school, tonight at Harder Stadium: By the end of minute 32, the Gauchos led 2-0, having scored on a PK and off a corner kick. Gonzaga scored 5 minutes from the end of the match to make the final score 2-1. UCSB's record is now 6-3-0, including an impressive 3-1 win over arch-rival UCLA. [Images]

2018/09/24 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
This poignant message warns against following anti-vaxers and other science deniers Fame and success aren't the same thing Warning: Reading can seriously damage your ignorance (1) Memes: [Left] This poignant message warns against following anti-vaxers and other science deniers. [Center] Fame and success aren't the same thing. [Right] Reading can seriously damage your ignorance.
(2) Tammie Jo Shults, the woman who became a hero when she safely landed a severely damaged Southwest plane, was once told girls don't become pilots.
(3) The similarities between Thomas and Kavanaugh confirmation hearings are undeniable: But there are also key differences, in that there is no race factor at play for Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford's accusation comes after our society's supposed enlightenment by the #MeToo movement. Clips of Anita Hill's testimony being replayed to draw comparisons is quite instructive, because they reveal the horrible treatment she received. [Photos]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Republicans' definition of due process includes making up your mind before hearing the accuser. [Image]
- Republicans' inverted logic: Everyone having guns makes us safer, but everyone having healthcare kills us all.
- Emphasis on STEM shouldn't be at the expense of marginalizing general education and humanities.
- How knowing more than one language enhances your brain's health and delays the onset of Alzheimer's.
- "It was a long time ago—Are you sure you haven't confused us with someone who cares?" [Cartoon]
- Teacher: "Who started the American Civil War?" Student: "Fox News and MSNBC." [Cartoon]
- Where Kurds live: Dark green areas are at least 3/4 Kurdish; medium green, ~1/3 or more. [Map]
- Masoud Darvish sings 3 Persian songs: "Sooreh Ehsas"; "Hamisheh Asheghetam"; "Raghs-e Baran"
(5) This week at UCSB: The week began with move-in and will continue with pre-instructional activities, until the start of fall-quarter classes on Thursday 9/27. [Photo]
(6) Call for inquiry into arbitrary detentions in Iran: A group of Iranian academics and human rights advocates have begun a petition drive to thank the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for investigating the imprisonment of Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang in Iran and concluding that the charges against him are totally baseless. This signable on-line petition, written in both English and Persian, includes links to various information sources and related articles.

2018/09/23 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Condolences to the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz for its losses in terror attack Calligraphic rendering of a Persian adage in Nastaliq script, rendered with a ball-point pen, instead of a calligraphy pen Persian calligraphy: Playing on the word 'eshgh' ('love') (1) Calligraphic art: [Left] Condolences to the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz for its losses in terror attack. [Center] Reflection: There are times when you catch yourself doing what you have scorned others for doing; confronting yourself is so scary! (The Persian version shown is written beautifully in Nastaliq script, using a ball-point pen, rather than a calligraphy pen; artist unknown) [Right] Playing on the word "eshgh" ("love").
(2) Effects of the #MeToo movement: We have a long way to go before women are viewed as full human beings with the same rights as everyone else, but the very fact that men in positions of power have begun apologizing for sexual misconduct or for not taking complaints seriously (as is the case for Santa Barbara City College President Anthony Beene) is cause for hope. Even if many of the apologies are insincere, the very fact that they feel compelled to offer them in order to survive is a step forward.
(3) Quote of the day: "What boy hasn't done this?" ~ Some women apologists for Brett Kavanaugh [It seems that the #MeToo movement has a lot of work to do educating women about their rights!]
(4) This statement, which I have translated from Persian, has been attributed to Mhatma Gandhi (I searched for its original from, but could not find anything similar on-line. Perhaps it is a misattribution, but I like the sentiment): The problem is that through a woman's torn clothes, people see her immodesty, not her poverty.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- To be happier, ban small-talk from your conversations: Here are 12 questions to ask instead.
- What kind of reasoning leads to making both abortion and contraception less accessible?
- Persian music: Violinist extraordinaire Bijan Mortazavi performs live in Los Angeles.
- Iranian folk music: Performed by Maliheh Moradi (vocals) and Shahab Azinmehr (setar). [Video]
- Girls are often ridiculed for the way they run, throw, jump, and so on: If you agree, watch this video.
- Statues come alive to stun and delight the spectators. [The music may be muted due to copyright issues]
(6) Persian fusion music: "Zamzameh" ("Whisper"), a piece based on a traditional Khorasani (northeastern Iran) melody, played by Masoud Shaari (setar), Sina Shaari (oud), and Darshan Anand (Indian drums).
(7) Mitch McConnell calls Trump to tell him that his comments about Dr. Blasey Ford, the professor who has accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, were unhelpful: Notice that he said "unhelpful," not "wrong"!
(8) Wheelchair-bound Iranian veteran asked a friend to take a photo of him during the Ahvaz, Iran, military parade: It turned out to be his last photo, as he died in the terror attack that ensued. [Photo]

2018/09/22 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Fall has arrived: Happy new school year to students, teachers, and others in academia! Birds, ocean, and sunset create a magnificent sight to behold Sumptuous Iranian spread, with fish and rice as the main dish (1) Some seasonal images: [Left] Fall has arrived: A very happy new school year to students, teachers, and others in academia! [Center] Birds, ocean, and sunset create a magnificent sight to behold. [Right] Sumptuous Iranian spread, with fish and rice as the main dish.
(2) US Supreme Court nominee: Judge Brett Kavanaugh's case gets more complicated following reports that two Yale law professors groomed good-looking female students to clerk for him.
(3) Tone-deaf Republican politician jokes about sexual assault: Did you hear the latest news about Ruth Bader Ginsburg coming out that she was groped by Abraham Lincoln? They just don't get it. Period.
(4) Gender pay gap (80 cents for women vs. $1 for men) extends to other areas: In fact, the gap is much worse in stock options, where women get 47 cents to male coworkers' dollar.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Terrorist attack at a military parade in Iran's southern city of Ahvaz, leaves at least 24 adults/kids dead.
- Congressman discounts the assault allegation against Kavanaugh as "an attempt that didn't go anywhere."
- Space achievement: Japan landed two rovers on an asteroid, and they have begun sending back pictures.
- Look at these high-heel shoes carefully to see what they are made of. [Images]
- The amazing nature: Animals pursuing food, on their own or with human help. [Video]
- Solo violin performance at what appears to be a public park in Iran. [Video]
- Iranians enjoying themselves with song and dance on a hiking trail, away from the eyes of anti-fun officials.
(6) In an op-ed, President Reagan's daughter, Patti Davis, writes about being sexually assaulted by a music industry executive, an incident she kept to herself for decades.
(7) [Please consider signing this petition; link at the bottom of this Persian news story.]
The petition reads, in part: We the undersigned, a group of Iranian academics and human rights activists residing outside the country, wish to thank the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for investigating the imprisonment of Mr. Xiyue Wang in Iran and concluding that there is "no legal basis for his arrest and detention." ... Mr. Wang is a hostage and the purpose of Iran's theocrats is either to swap him for their convicted agents detained in the United States or collect money for his release. ...
(8) Possible math breakthrough: Michael Atiyah says he will provide "a simple proof" of the 160-year-old Riemann hypothesis in a talk at the Heidelberg Laureate Forum in Germany.
(9) Another Trump surrogate bites the dust: Jason Miller, former Trump aide and apologist on CNN panels, always seemed creepy to me. Miller has been ousted by CNN amid accusations that include giving a mistress an abortion-inducing drug without her knowledge.

2018/09/21 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for the audiobook 'Russian Roulette' (1) Book review: Isikoff, Michael and David Corn, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Peter Ganim, Twelve, 2018.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book presents a detailed, well-researched account, backed by documents and testimonials, of Trump's cozy relationship with several dozen Russians and mob figures. He, his family members, and close associates were intimately involved in commercial real-estate developments in Russia, including multiple attempts at building Trump towers and hotels, with the deals falling through only because Russia wanted majority control of the projects. The Trump organization was also involved in real-estate transactions in the US by Russian nationals, many of them suspected of money-laundering and other criminal activities.
Every time he has been questioned about these shady figures, Trump has feigned ignorance of their criminal backgrounds and, in most cases, has denied that he knew them beyond casual contacts.
The book offers a detailed account of FBI's efforts to brief DNC officials about Russian infiltration of their servers, going as far as providing URLs of sites in Russia with which DNC servers were communicating, warnings that were, for the most part, dismissed until it was too late. Russian hackers had conducted extensive phishing campaigns that, among other things, netted them passwords and other credentials of high-level DNC operatives, which allowed them to access e-mail communications as well as current and archived documents.
In terms of research and documentation, this is one of the better books among many titles that have been published about Trump, his presidential campaign, and his presidency. I have not yet read Bob Woodward's just-published book, Fear: Trump in the White House.
(2) Iran of youre: Print-media ad from half a century ago, telling Iranians that all they need to travel comfortably around the world is a passport and a Saderat Bank revolving-account checkbook.
(3) Pants on fire: Trump and his lawyer deny that he admitted he fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation, despite millions having seen the edited version of the on-camera NBC interview (where he plainly said so) and a longer version of the interview being available on YouTube.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Additional accusers emerge for California doctor and his girlfriend, who drugged and raped many women.
- NC river breaches dam and connects to a power plant's coal-ash reservoir, risking serious contamination.
- Two cartoons about today's biggest news story: Confirmation hearings of Judge Kavanaugh.
- Proposed Antarctica wall could prevent glaciers from melting and avert catastrophic sea-level rise.
- Science saves the day: Elephant-tusk DNA testing exposes three massive ivory-smuggling cartels.
- Persian music: Hoor Orchestra performs Saeed-Nia Kowsari's "Ey Zabaan-e Farsi" (Oh Persian Language).
(5) A plan for survival: In an editorial published by the journal Science, leading biologists propose setting aside half of Earth's surface to allow wildlife to thrive.
(6) Final thought for this International Peace Day (September 21): The world spends about $250 annually for every human being on Earth to wage war.

2018/09/20 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: 'My thoughts and prayers have been answered!' If Trump shot someone on Fifth Avenue (he would deny it, of course)! Cartoon: 'Not now, honey. Daddy's arguing with strangers about sexual orientation of puppets.' (1) Political cartoons of the day: [Left] "My thoughts and prayers have been answered!" (see the first item under one-liners below) [Center] If Trump shot someone on Fifth Avenue (he'd deny it, of course)! [Right] "Not now, honey. Daddy's arguing with strangers about sexual orientation of puppets." (From: The New Yorker)
(2) Stats for Santa Barbara's 27th Annual Day of Caring (September 15, 2018) published: More than 1000 volunteers showed up at over 50 SB County sites, providing landscaping, painting, repair, clean-up, and other services, with estimated value of around $300,000.
(3) Censorship in Iran keeps getting weirder and weirder: The judiciary arrests two theater veterans and bans a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
(4) Comprehensive study done under Iran's President Rouhani concludes that the current system, including lavish spending on "other Muslims," is unsustainable.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Workplace shooting at Rite Aid distribution center leaves multiple people dead and several others injured.
- Fear stops many women from speaking up, making sexual assault the most under-reported crime.
- The more things change, the more they stay the same: Misogyny in the #MeToo age. [Tweet]
- With many of his aides arrested, it's only a matter of time before Ahmadinejad himself is nabbed.
- How playing an instrument and listening to music vastly improve our cognitive abilities.
- Studying patterns in music: Songs that stay with us and dominate our brains are highly repetitive.
- Arabic fusion music: The French band Orange Blossom performs "Habibi" ("My Love").
- Persian music: Violinist extraordinaire Bijan Mortazavi performs "Hemaaseh" ("Epic") in his 1994 concert.
(6) Be curious, not judgmental: An essay by a psychology professor about the difference between being judgmental ("He's lazy!") and curious ("What's holding him back?") in dealing with students and others. "If a person's behavior doesn't make sense to you, it is because you are missing a part of their context."
(7) The Kavanaugh hearing is a big test for the Republicans: Not just how they treat Dr. Ford, but the manner of showing to suburban white women, who helped elect Trump, that they've heard the #MeToo message.
(8) Convergence of computer science and biology: Animal species are nothing but collections of pre-loaded algorithms that evolve to maximize survival chances.
(9) Engineering failure: Pipe pressure was 12 times higher than safe limit just before the Boston gas explosions. Where were the pressure monitors? Automatic shut-off mechanisms? Human oversight?

2018/09/19 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Some much-needed perspective on the role/place of us humans in nature! How did a Latino immigrant suddenly become a white racist? No president has done what Trump has done: Absolutely correct! (1) Three interesting and timely memes: [Left] Some much-needed perspective on the role/place of us humans in nature! [Center] How did a Latino immigrant suddenly become a white racist? [Right] No president has done what Trump has done: Absolutely correct!
(2) Oh, the Irony: North Carolina, a highly vulnerable US state to global warming because of its low-lying coastal areas, passed a law in 2012 to ban policies based on predictions of catastrophically-rising sea levels.
(3) Don't keep loads of your children's art: Creating artwork is good. Sharing them with parents and being acknowledged is also good. But keeping boxes of them around the house is a waste of time, because, over time, the works will lose freshness and seem less impressive. I kind of buy this advice; many may disagree.
(4) Fusion music to get you off your chair: Rachid Taha and Catherine Ringer perform "Ya Rayah" ("Oh Immigrant"). And here's the English translation of the lyrics.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Those who constantly cry 'Fake News,' including the Trumps, are actually the worst spreaders of fakery!
- Aftermath of Hurricane Florence: Train derails in North Carolina after flooding washes away the tracks.
- This isn't a river: It's North Carolina's Interstate 40. Hurricane Florence's death toll reaches 35. [Photo]
- Persian music: Dialog between oud (Sina Shaari), setar (Masoud Shaari), and percussion (Pejman Haddadi).
- Cartoon of the day: Iranian women outsmart the regime every step of the way! [Image]
- "I hope all that's good looks beautiful to you." ~ Ehsan Yarshater, writing in a young girl's autograph book
(6) Joke of the day: A thief came to my house at night, and, when he found nothing worth taking, he woke me up and said: "Hey, man! I feel so sorry for you. Here's 100 bucks."
(7) Fusion Jazzy music: Barcelona Gipsy Klezmer Orchestra performs "Djelem Dejelem" ("I Went, I Went").
[See Wikipedia for the history of this Romani anthem.]
(8) Math puzzle: A runner enters an east-west tunnel from its east end and runs one quarter of its length, when she notices a car moving at 40 km/hr approaching the tunnel's east end. If she runs at her maximum speed in either direction, she would get to the end of the tunnel exactly at the same time as the car. What is the athlete's top speed?
(9) [Final post for the day] Persian music: Oud, tar, and tonbak are featured in this wonderful piece by three talented young women: Padideh Ahrarnejad (tar), Ava Ayoubi (oud), and Nazanin Pedarsani (tonbak).

2018/09/17 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for 'Dear Fahrenheit 451' (1) Book review: Spence, Annie, Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks, unabridged audiobook on 5 CDs, read by Stephanie Spicer, Dreamscape Media, 2017.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Imagine a book as the love interest of a librarian. What would s/he write in a love letter to his/her favorite book? What might one see in a break-up note, when the book has reached the end of its shelf life and no one seems to be interested in borrowing it?
The letters in this book are generally witty, funny, and compassionate, some more so than others. At times, the letters/notes are quite short, taking the form of book introductions or recommendations. You may disagree with some of the author's assessments, but her fairly short book is still an easy and fun read.
(2) Nuclear power plants in the Carolinas still in danger: Since Japan's Fukushima disaster, operators have shored up defenses, but will the protections be enough?
(3) Actor Harrison Ford (Han Solo, Indiana Jones) urges us to reject politicians who don't believe in science or, worse, pretend they don't believe in science out of self-interest.
(4) As we are occupied by Hurricane Florence here in the US, Typhoon Mangkhut, said to be the strongest-ever storm in the world, is wreaking havoc in China and, most recently, Hong Kong. And here is a video showing wind-caused damage in Japan's storm of last week.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hurricane Florence: Death toll rises. Hundreds still trapped. The worst still to come in some areas. [Photos]
- Trump's tweet about Mexican Independence Day generates predictable backlash. [Image]
- Someone please start counting: Trump has issued his first truthful tweet! [Tweet image]
- Donald Trump Jr. mocks Brett Kavanaugh's sexual assault accuser: Apple does not fall far from the tree!
- Heavenly apple orchard (location unknown): I never knew that such small trees can bear this much fruit!
- Persian music: Masterful violin and tonbak duo by Reza Shayesteh and Nazanin Pedar-Sani.
(6) Morning huddle at the White House: "Staffers, try to contain him and keep your hands in his face. Aides, cut off the outlets. Advisers, watch out for that quick release. And, everyone, stay alert for fumbles." [Cartoon from: The New Yorker]
(7) Bob Woodward's book, Fear, is a best-seller, but it didn't cause even a ripple in Washington: Why? In part because what Woodward describes isn't surprising to anyone who has been reading the news of late, and partly because our reverence for the presidency has sharply declined after JFK (the womanizer), Nixon (the foul-mouthed crook), Clinton ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman"), and GWB (need I explain?).

2018/09/16 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. One of the first bicycles entering Iran in the Qajar era
Kurdish women of Kermanshah gather by the stream flowing next to Taq-e Bostan, a relic from the 4th-century AD Sassanid Empire, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site (early 20th century) Boys with shaven heads as part of the treatment for scalp infections (June 13, 1951) (1) Iran's history in pictures: [Left] One of the first bicycles entering Iran in the Qajar era. [Center] Kurdish women of Kermanshah gather by the stream flowing next to Taq-e Bostan, a relic from the 4th-century AD Sassanid Empire, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site (early 20th century). [Right] Boys with shaven heads as part of the treatment for scalp infections (June 13, 1951).
(2) This cleric says that Iran's conditions will not improve: Those holding power have gone from penniless to super-rich and it's foolish to think that they will start doing the right thing after four decades of being in power.
(3) Two very interesting quotes from the legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
On immigrants: "What the immigrant perspective means is you know at least two places very well, which means you can actually put two places in your head at the same time. That's what builds imagination."
On whether there is still a place for classical music in pop culture: "The percentage of calcium in our diet is probably 0.00001%—But tell me we don't need calcium."
(4) Quote of the day: "Insulin was discovered in 1920, and I like that at the 100-year mark we may be done injecting insulin." ~ Douglas Melton, Harvard Stem Cell Institute [Quoted in Time magazine]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Meme of the day: Maybe justice is indeed blind: Or, perhaps, it is also deaf, heartless, and greedy!
- Donald Trump Jr. takes a stab at humor re Obama's mistake of referring to 57 states and lives to regret it.
- Mourners burn 72 doves alive to commemorate the slaughter of Imam Hussein and his army in Karbala.
- Persian music: "Majnoon" by Hoor Orch. (composed by Anooshiravan Rohani, arranged by Bijan Mortazavi.
- Persian music: A wonderful instrumental piece (violin, piano, tonbak) by Hoor Orchestra.
- Some choreography ideas for anyone wanting to perform the Persian "Baba Karam" dance!
- Archaeological discoveries in Egypt: Recently, a new Sphinx and other artifacts were found in a temple.
(6) Persian music: Salar Aghili sings "Raghs-e Guisoo," accompanied by Mehrnavazan Orchestra (composed by Fereydoon Hafezi, lyrics by Mir Naser Sharifi; a song made famous by Delkash).
(7) Persian music: Naghmeh Hafezi (piano) and Peyman Lohrasbi (violin) perform "Raghs-e Guisoo" (the song detailed in my previous post) in an intimate setting. [Anooshiravan Rohani speaks at the end.]

2018/09/15 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Chart, plotting quality of news media (from fabricated stories at the bottom to highly accurate fact reporting at the top) vs. partisan bias (extreme liberal on the left to extreme conservative on the right) (1) Informative chart, plotting quality of news media (from fabricated stories at the bottom to highly accurate fact reporting at the top) vs. partisan bias (extreme liberal on the left to extreme conservative on the right).
(2) Physics puzzle: There are two straight iron bars that look and feel identical. One is a magnet and the other isn't. How can you tell which is which by just touching them to each other? No other action is allowed.
(3) Terahertz clocks on the way: PC clock rates have stalled around 10 GHz and further improvement does not seem possible with current technology. German researchers believe that using graphene in electronics may allow orders-of-magnitude increase in clock rates.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hurricane Florence's death toll, now at 11, will likely rise as rainwater and storm surge subside.
- Is our rotting infrastructure catching up with us? Here's a map of gas fires/explosions, in Andover, MA.
- Worked this morning on cleaning up Isla Vista as my "Day of Caring" project. [Photos]
- The turnout was impressive, consisting almost exclusively of students. A cause of hope for our society!
- RIP VW Beetle [1945-2019]: The model will be discontinued at age 74.
- Looking forward to reading In Pieces, actress Sally Field's honest, brave, and highly personal memoir.
- Interesting essay by a woman who filed for divorce three months after her wedding day.
- Essentials for a summer afternoon: Colorful flower bouquet and a yummy-looking fruit plate. [Photos]
(5) Some interesting/funny video clips for your enjoyment on this mid-September Saturday.
- Little girl, with magical voice and unbelievable poise, performs at a talent competition.
- Iranian music and dance from the Caspian shore region. [1-minute video]
- Practical demonstration of the management style of the Islamic Republic of Iran officials! [1-minute video]
- Humorous Persian poetry: Cleric recites an anti-regime piece at a poetry-reading session in Iran.
- Either Chinese toddlers receive financial training or, like Iran, there is a severe shortage of diapers in China!
- This magic routine, performed at "Britain's Got Talent," involves the quickest costume changes ever.
- And one last video: Man likes magic trick at first, but things don't go well later!?
(6) Persian poetry: In this poem, entitled "Assumption," Hooshang Ebtehaj (pen name H. E. Sayeh) tells us that people routinely make incorrect assumptions. And they are often sincere in their beliefs; they simply don't know or don't remember better. This, he said in one poetry session before reading the poem, explains inaccuracies in all autobiographies. Everyone writing an autobiography in Iran declares himself not responsible for the current mess, the left blaming the right and the right blaming the left.

2018/09/14 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for 'TransAtlantic' (1) Book review: McCann, Colum, TransAtlantic: A Novel, unabridged audiobook, read by Geraldine Hughes, Random House Audio, 2013.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The narrative in this novel begins with two aviators, Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown, setting out to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 1919, shortly after the end of World War I, flying from St. John's in Newfoundland to Ireland on a modified bomber. Two other Atlantic-crossers are prominently featured in the novel: Frederick Douglass, who goes on a lecture tour in the mid 1840s to promote his subversive autobiography, and Irish-American Senator George Mitchell, who travels to Belfast in 1998 to lead Northern Ireland's highly sensitive peace talks.
McCann introduces quite a few made-up characters alongside the real ones and weaves their fictional life stories, including parallels between them, with real personalities and events of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. The stories are tied together by a number of remarkable women, beginning with Lily Duggan, an Irish housemaid, who crossed paths with Frederick Douglass.
(2) Kurds' rights in Iran: The late Dr. Abdol Rahman Ghassemlou [1930-1989] said that the Kurds are no less Iranian than any other group of people in the country and will never accept the status of second-class citizens.
(3) Quote of the day: "There is rape because there are rapists, not because there are pretty girls." ~ Leni Lobredo, Philippines VP, responding to President Rodrigo Duterte's remark that rape will exist "as long as there are many beautiful women"
(4) Mass killing in China: Vehicle attack in Central China kills a dozen people and injures 44: The incident has been classified as a case of "revenge on society" rather than terrorism.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump presents "alternative facts": Hurricane Maria death toll was inflated by Democrats to hurt him!
- Planned Parenthood's new president, Dr. Leana Wen, is an immigrant who practices emergency medicine.
- Gunman, his wife, and 4 others dead in Bakersfield, California, shooting incident.
- Late Senator John McCain's family distraught over the use of his words in political attack ads.
- Architect introduces some excitement and variety into the design of heretofore boring bathroom stalls.
- The President prepares for Hurricane Florence. [Cartoon] [From: The New Yorker]
- Math puzzle: How can you obtain 6 by using only 0s and any number of math symbols?
- Persian music: A short audio clip of Marzieh singing "Guisoo," accompanied by a historic photo of her.
(6) Bob Woodward's Fear: Trump in the White House sets publishing records: It sells 3/4 million copies on its first day and already has 1.15 million hard copies in print.
(7) Wonderful 10-day weather forecast for the Santa Barbara/Goleta area: Sunny, highs in the 70s, lows around 60. Feeling for those affected by Hurricane Florence.
[Continued dry conditions, leading to high fire danger, is a different story here in California, though.]

2018/09/13 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photos of the French citroen minimalist car model, marketed as 'Zhiaan' in Iran of the 1970s (1) Throwback Thursday: Some Iranian friends and acquaintances from my generation may have fond memories of this French Citroen minimalist car model that was marketed and became popular in Iran of the 1970s under the "Zhiaan" brand name.
(2) Women = Possessions: Whoever designed this misogynistic poster likely thought that it was very clever. The Persian message admonishes men who cover their cars to avoid dents and scratches, yet allow their wives and daughters on the streets, without proper head-to-toe covers. In similar signs, equally insulting to both sexes, women's hijabs are likened to candy-wrappers which keep flies and worms away from your sweets.
(3) Dire economic climate in Iran is endured with a rather surprising sense of humor: In this poetic satire, Majid Morseli (sp?) begs his baby son not to pee, given the shortage and high prices of diapers.
(4) [This item is from mid-July, but I just learned about it] Anti-Semitism in action: Miami man arrested with gasoline canisters, just in the nick of time before he could set fire to a condominium complex (which he had already sprinkled with gasoline) to "kill all the f-ing Jews" inside.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- California Governor Jerry Brown's Climate Summit embraced by leaders worldwide, but not by Washington.
- US News & World Report's latest ranking places UCSB 5th among America's public universities; 30th overall.
- Apple Computer introduces three new iPhone models: Xr, Xs, Xs Max.
- Under the hashtag #TheCensor_And_I, Iran's artists share their encounters with absurd censorship rules.
- Eagerly awaiting "A Star Is Born": Bradley Cooper directing/singing and Lady Gaga in first starring role.
- Persian music: A silly song, which I don't quite understand, but find funny nonetheless!
- For my Persian-speaking readers: You'd appreciate this video if you have ever misunderstood song lyrics!
- Funny animals: Here's what happens when you don't appreciate good deeds!
(6) Follow the money: A complex web of financial transactions among some of the planners and participants of the infamous Trump-Tower meeting between the Trump camp and Russians moved money from Russia and Switzerland to the British Virgin Islands, Bangkok, and a small office park in NJ.
(7) Scientists grow "cerebral organoids" from stem cells: Nicknamed "mini-brains," the collections of 1 million or so neurons resemble different regions of the human brain. This research field, which was born five years ago, is still a long way from mimicking the full functionality of the human brain. After 100 days, the self-organizing mini-brains resemble a portion of the pre-natal brain in the second trimester of pregnancy.
(8) Final thought for the day [real news story]: A group of DC residents complained to city authorities that the owner of Trump International Hotel fails the "good character" test required of anyone who wants to sell liquor.

2018/09/12 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for 'Trump Survival Guide' (1) Book review: Stone, Gene, The Trump Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know about Living Through What You Hoped Would Never Happen, unabridged audiobook on 4 CDs, read by Danny Campbell, HarperAudio, 2017. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
It seems that I cannot resist any book with "Trump" in its title! The tales are already getting old, as one author after another tells us about the den of dysfunction that is the Trump White House. According to Bob Woodward's just-released book, Trump is given the illusion that he is a powerful leader, going around, dictating actions and issuing orders, while the so-called "adults in the room" tone down outrageous policies and walk back the more misguided pronouncements, with or without his knowledge. Clearly, Trump is dangerous for our country, even in this muted form, given his direct Twitter channel for spreading misinformation and hatred.
The difference with this book, by the author of The Bush Survival Bible, is that it also provides practical strategies for ordinary citizens to cope with the crisis and to move from anger/despair to activism. Stone suggests that concrete action must supplement marches and social-media protests, and he provides names of organizations, people, Web sites, and other resources one can use to effect action. This fairly short book is well worth reading for those who are inclined to act but don't know where to start.
(2) Florence dangers explained: Hurricane Florence is dangerous, not primarily because of strong winds but due to vast storm surges it will create and loads of rain it is expected to dump on the Carolinas, as it stalls on land. Meanwhile, the northern Atlantic Ocean is spinning two other named hurricanes—Isaac and Helene. In the Pacific, tropical storm Olivia is on track to hit Hawaii. Welcome to the hurricane season!
(3) Wildfires: We know how to make wildfires easier to put out and less devastating, but the needed process of clearing the underbrush and controlled burns requires spending money we don't have.
(4) On its release day, Bob Woodward's Fear was already Amazon's 5th best-selling title of 2018: This article explains what the book is about and who might have provided the info it reports.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Carolinians warned: Even if you have ridden out storms before, be mindful that Florence is different!
- EU may sanction Hungary: PM Viktor Orban argues that he has an electoral mandate to roll back democracy.
- Republicans propose new tax cuts, paid for by another $2 trillion increase in the deficit.
- Iran's Revolutionary Guards attack Kurdish forces based in Iraq with less-than-perfect missiles.
- The US men's soccer team beat Mexico 1-0 in a friendly match, scoring after a Mexican player was ejected.
- Quote of the day: "The cure for anything is salt water—sweat, tears or the sea." ~ Isak Dinesen
(6) Republican Senator Susan Collins, a potential "no" vote on Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation, harassed with obscene phone calls and shipments of wire hangers to her office.
(7) Break time: Feeling very productive at Starbucks, sitting outdoors on a 70-degree day (same forecast, as far as the eye can see) and working on the Persian version of an article I have already completed in English.

2018/09/11 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. Jewish blessing on a silver bowl from Iran (ca. 1918) The historic arch that was the gateway to Shiraz, Iran
Published around 116 years ago in 'Adab' newspaper, this cartoon is claimed by some to be Iran's oldest (1) Iran's history in pictures: [Left] Jewish blessing on a silver bowl from Iran (ca. 1918): "Blessed are you Lord, our God, King of the world, Creator of the fruit of the vine." [Center] The arch at the center-left of this photo is Darvaazeh Shiraz. We used to drive through the historic gateway to enter Shiraz, arriving from Persepolis. Now, the structure is just a tourist attraction, with a multi-lane highway next to it accommodating the vastly increased traffic. [Right] Published around 116 years ago in Adab newspaper, this cartoon is claimed by some to be Iran's oldest. It depicts the difference between Westerners, who help each other in climbing the ladder of success, versus Easterners, who kick/drag each other down.
(2) We remember September 11, 2001: A concrete and steel structure at the Flight 93 Pennsylvania crash site has been dedicated for 9/11's 17th anniversary. It features wind chimes and is named "Tower of Voices."
(3) Voice of America program (from 2015) talks to, and shows samples of music by, Iranian Kurd singer Nasser Razzazi: He discusses his own style, as well as varieties and influences on Kurdish music in general. He maintains that Kurdish music is the only thing that has kept the Kurdish language alive. Starting at the 22:20 mark of the video, Razzazi discusses a popular Kurdish song about Norooz, how it was born in Iraq, and how the Shah's secret police forced Iranian performers to change parts of the lyrics. [30-minute video] Here is an older 27-minute BBC conversation with Nasser Razzazi.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The full phone conversation between Donald Trump and Bob Woodward. [11-minute audio file]
- Bob Woodward's first interview on his new book, Fear: Trump in the White House, to be released today.
- Trump's notebook sketch: Early idea of the wall, to be built by USA and paid for by Mexico. [Bill Mahr]
- Digital Life Design Conf.: As the new Jewish year rolls in, Israelis are pessimistic about peace prospects.
- Try the "language" dish at this eatery: Persian "zabaan" is translated to "language," instead of "tongue"!
- Turning the Sahara Desert into a wind/solar farm has the side benefit of bringing vegetation back to it.
- Quote of the day: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." ~ African proverb
(5) The Notorious RBG: "I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks." ~ Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking on behalf of women
[I was reminded of this statement while reading the book Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II; look for my review soon.]
(6) Evacuations ordered: Hurricane Florence turns into a category-4 storm, becoming perhaps the strongest storm to hit the US mainland northward of the South Carolina coast. Here is Florence's projected path.

2018/09/10 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to all who observe it! (1) Happy Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to all who observe it! The new Hebrew calendar year 5779 begins today. Jewish traditional celebration of Rosh Hashanah, starting on the night before, involves several fruits and vegetables. For example, apple dipped in honey represents sweetness and pomegranate signifies fruitfulness.
(2) A new store in town: Today, I finally ventured into the newly-opened Home Goods store in Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace and was impressed with the selection and prices.
(3) CBS Chief Les Moonves forced out, effective immediately, in light of sexual misconduct allegations: He is by far the highest-profile executive to be ousted since the #MeToo movement began.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump adviser Roger Stone urges the firing of Special Counsel Mueller and "insubordinate hillbilly" Sessions.
- Trump believes that his training makes him eminently qualified as a military leader! [Meme]
- Subway station at NYC's World Trade Center reopens in time for 9/11's 17th anniversary.
- Marziyeh Fariqi performs a Kurdish folk song.
- Vocal ensemble performs a Kurdish song, made famous by Marziyeh Fariqi.
- Teacher puts his safety on the line to demonstrate that predictions of scientific theories can be trusted.
Cover image for 'Furiously Happy' (5) Book review: Lawson, Jenny, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, unabridged audiobook on 7 CDs, read by the author, Macmillan Audio, 2015.
[My 2-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Lawson describes her lifelong battle with mental illness, using "funny" stories that are sometimes not very funny. There are genuinely funny, self-deprecating passages in the book, but the humor seems forced for the most part. For example, crass language is used in many passages in lieu of more refined presentation that would entail more work. I suspect that many other sufferers from mental illness would not like the way Lawson makes light of the challenges they face.
This book is a product of the way we Americans would like to be fed everything with a dose of laughter. Laughing is an essential need of a happy and balanced life, but not everything needs to be made fun of. This issue reminds me of a number of other "funny" acts that are not really funny. Take, for example, the case of Jimmy Kimmel's sidekick on TV, the Hispanic Guillermo, whose behavior, imperfect English, and thick accent are used to draw laughter from the audience.
Let me end on a positive note: Lawson suggests that we should celebrate our weirdness and find joy in whatever way we can, despite our limitations and dire circumstances. This is excellent advice for everyone.

2018/09/09 (Sunday): Book review: Mazarei, Merhnoosh, Mina's Revolution: A Novel, CreateSpace, 2015. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Cover image for 'Mina's Revolution' Iranian women have been quite prolific over the past couple of decades, publishing novels and other works at an impressive rate. So, why have these authors, coming from a region of the world where giving women permission to drive a car is a big deal, have been so productive intellectually? The credit/blame goes to the Islamic Revolution, which took away much of their hard-earned rights in one fell swoop, while at the same time, giving them much to write about. Both non-working, traditional women (needing intellectual stimulation) and working women (in need of a hobby) have been toiling alongside full-time professional writers to produce a welcome collection of books that, though mostly fictional (in the historical fiction genre), address the challenges of a regressive society in a brave and refreshing style. And the cultural backwardness isn't only limited to the country they left in search of sociopolitical freedom and a better life for themselves and their families; it also exists in diaspora, where many Iranian men still do not view the women in their lives as equal.
After dedicating the book to the free-spirited women of Iran and America, her two countries, and quoting E. L. Doctorow ("The historian will tell you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it felt like."), Mazarei begins her story in Los Angeles, on the day before 9/11, as Mina, a woman in her late 40s, barely makes it to her flight out of LAX for work-related meetings in New York City, where she also plans to see her daughter Shirin after eight years of estrangement; the real beginning, however, is in Borazjan, a city in southern Iran, sometime in 1964, when Mina was 11 or 12.
Description of some more or less routine happenings on the LA-NYC flight ends this segment, which is followed by another segment from late 1979, nine months after Iran's Islamic Revolution, when Mina arrived in the US, via London, as a pregnant twenty-something master's student, bringing along a few personal belongings, some Marzieh audio-tapes, and a National rice-cooker her mother had sent for her brother, whom Mina was visiting.
The pattern of jumping back and forth between dates and locations continues throughout the novel. The chapters are titled with a city and a person/place/event, such as "Tehran—University," "Los Anglels—Shirin," or "New York—Sept. 11th 2001." The narrative, which begins in Los Angeles on 9/10/2001, ends in New York City on 9/11/2001, 8:34 AM, as Mina runs toward WTC's North Tower, where she was to meet Shirin. The reader is left to speculate what will happen, when Flight 11 crashes into the North Tower's north face, between floors 93 and 99, shortly after 8:46 AM.
The "Revolution" of the book's title carries multiple meanings. There is the obvious Islamic Revolution, in which Mina played a role as a young political activist and which eventually drove her to leave her country of birth, and there are multiple inner "revolutions," as Mina tries to reconcile her idealism and big dreams with the challenges of material life and the realities of having to provide for a daughter, who later did not appreciate all of her mother's sacrifices.
As Mina prepares for the much-anticipated meeting with Shirin, her entire life passes before her eyes. She examines all of her key decisions, sacrifices made, and pleasures forfeited, more or less blaming herself for all that had gone wrong, including a marriage devoid of passion, the obsession of those around her with her cooking skills, the death of her idealism, unrealized dreams, and not experiencing an orgasm until later in life. She craved causes that were greater than herself and her immediate family, but which had died because of her own neglect and the impact of her vindictive, anti-intellectual husband. These details fill the pages between the LA beginning and the NYC ending.
The book had been on my to-read list for a while. After growing rather impatient with the story in the first one-third of the book, I was drawn back in when I got to the part where Mina's political activism and the affair with a self-absorbed revolutionary leader were described. Throughout, Mina self-criticizes her wrong decisions, avoidance of confrontation, not looking out for herself, and taming her rebellious self too much.
The novel is well-conceived, but it suffers from typical shortcomings of a self-published title. An expert editor might have advised the author to do away with a couple of superficially-introduced characters (such as Mohammad Ata, on p. 211, presumably one of the 9/11 hijackers) and provide more details about the men whom Mina fancied and the reasons she was drawn to them. These and a number of other editing/formatting problems are minor and do not detract much from the story's nice flow.

2018/09/08 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Louis-Francois Breguet's dial telegraph of 1842 aimed to simplify sending and receiving of telegrams, with no need for learning special codes Shades of the color white, which were left out from those posted over the last couple of days. This 2500-year-old stone tablet, which was stolen some 80 years ago, has been returned to Iran, thanks to a verdict from a Supreme Coutrt judge in NYC. (1) Some interesting images: [Left] Louis-Francois Breguet's dial telegraph of 1842 aimed to simplify sending and receiving of telegrams, with no need for learning special codes. The letter W was left out, as were diacritical marks, which are important in French. (Image credit: IEEE Spectrum, issue of September 2018) [Center] Shades of the color white, which were left out from those posted here over the last couple of days. [Right] This 2500-year-old stone tablet, which was stolen some 80 years ago, has been returned to Iran, thanks to a verdict from a Supreme Court judge in NYC.
(2) Human errors and tech: Many tech-related disasters are attributable fully or in part to human error. So, it is important to understand the reasons for human errors, some of which are due to poor tech design of human-machine interfaces. These 4 case studies are from Human Error, a 1990 book by James Reason (Cambridge University Press), one of the references I have used for my graduate-level course on fault-tolerant computing.
*Nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island     *Chemical plant at Bhopal, India
*Nuclear power plant at Chernobyl    *King's Cross Underground fire
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- How Republicans who hated candidate Trump went on to love him as President: Don Lemon has the tapes!
- Watergate attorney is certain Trump will be impeached, and Trump himself seems to dread impeachment.
- Unenthusiastic guy and a couple of others standing behind Trump are replaced by some pretty faces!
- Russia denies responsibility for the UK chemical assassination attempt, calling the evidence "fake news."
- Three young Kurdish political prisoners (Ramin Panahi, Zanyar Muradi, Loqman Murad) executed in Iran.
- Well, it was bound to happen: Teen falls to death while trying to take a selfie at Yosemite National Park.
- Kids say the darnest things: A very important phone conversation.
- Art from scrap: Making animal shapes by peeling a tangerine.
- History in pictures: NYC's Times Square, 1909.
- Juggling, with a twist (multiple ones, in fact): Four limbs, five balls, six-minute video.
- This 19-year-old domino chain-reaction master talks about her techniques for 15,000-piece creations.
- Signs of the time: Some unintentionally funny signs from Iran, for my Persian-speaking readers.
(4) Final thought for the day: Trump claims he fell asleep during former President Obama's speech. Sad! He missed an opportunity to discover what America is all about, and learn a few big words too.

2018/09/07 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
shades of black Shades of blue Shades of brown Shades of grey Shades of green Shades of orange Shades of pink Shades of red Shades of yellow (1) More color shades: Yesterday, I posted an image with names of 20 shades of purple. Out of curiosity, I searched for shades of a few other colors. Here are the results. The main color always appears on the top left.
(2) She received no credit for the discovery of pulsars, when a Nobel prize was awarded to her supervisor for the feat: Now, Bell Burnell has landed the biggest cash award ($3 million) for her contributions.
(3) Senator Kamala Harris asks US Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, if he could think of any law that regulates the male body. He couldn't.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- More than a dozen senior administration officials have denied being NYT's anonymous op-ed writer.
- Those who think they are controlling Trump, the so-called adults in the room, are strengthening his hand.
- Twitter users have a field day with Trump's claim that he will be remembered like Abraham Lincoln.
- Trump's "Anomenous" becomes the new "Covfefe"!
- NK hacker Park Jin Hyok charged with Sony Pictures hack and WannaCry global ransomware attack.
- This week's SB Independent reports on the celebration held on 8/25 to mark Miye Ota's 100th birthday.
- In a little over two weeks, UCSB will welcome the class of 2022 to its campus by the sea.
(5) A new job title in Iran: Arranging turbans in the nicest possible way. The fee charged depends on the design's complexity. [Persian tweet] [News story (in Persian): Unusual jobs that have sprung up in Iran]
(6) Final thought for the day: Richard Corsi, new dean of engineering at Portland State University, wants to make Portland a brilliant city, which he defines as the next step up from a smart city!

2018/09/06 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Flowers in different shades of purple growing in rocks Names of different shades of purple, for color-challenged people like me More flowers in purple shades (1) Shades of the color purple: [Left] Flowers in different shades of purple growing in rocks. [Center] Names of different shades of purple, for color-challenged people like me. [Right] More flowers in purple shades.
(2) Logical reasoning puzzle: In the following sequence, what is the next number?
4   12   23   69   80   ?         a. 91   b. 100   c. 191   d. 240
(3) CDC deals with emergency: Passengers and crew of an Emirate flight landing in NYC with more than 100 sick individuals have been quarantined. This document highlights Hajj risks from all communicable diseases, including a camel-borne respiratory disease.
(4) A couple of Persian tweets about Iranian female member of parliament Parvaneh Salahshoori: After a speech, male members insulted her, one asking whether her husband had read the speech.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Up to a year and a half ago, Bob Woodward was a great guy, but not after exposing Trump's failings.
- This is Trump's level of understanding of energy sources and their security: Truly scary!
- Melania Trump's back-to-school tweet asks whether students will strive to #BeBest, with no sense of irony!
- Loss of coral reefs will bring humanity a step closer to extinction: And the process has already begun.
- Cartoon of the day: Iranians face a severe shortage of baby diapers. [Image]
- A second cartoon, from The New Yorker: Disgruntled White House employees talk to Bob Woodward. [Image]
- Mashhad, Iran's second largest and holiest city, has become a destination for Iraqi sex tourists.
(6) Tiny machines inside human body may be able to harvest energy from biological cells: Scientists have already demonstrated that a capacitor can be charged by tapping into a frog egg, with the resulting charge used to power tiny, ultra-low-power electronics.
(7) For soccer enthusiasts: Having messed up big-time by not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, the US men's soccer team is back, trying to redeem itself. Here are their next two exhibition matches. Friday, 9/07, vs. Brazil, Fox Sports 1, 4:30 PM PDT; Tuesday, 9/11, vs. Mexico, ESPN, 5:30 PM PDT.
(8) American values ignored: The US has overlooked human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia for decades, and now that Canada is standing up to the Kingdom and getting punished for it economically, the US refuses to get involved, telling the two countries to work it out between themselves.
(9) Resistance inside the White House? Someone claiming to be a Trump administration insider has revealed, anonymously, that s/he is working to curb Trump's worst instincts and brands himself/herself as a hero. What would be heroic is to expose this president, as Bob Woodward has done, and to help remove him from office, not pick and choose from his decisions and orders via an extra-Constitutional process.

2018/09/05 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of Walter Isaacson's 'Leonardo da Vinci' (1) Book review: Isaacson, Walter, Leonardo da Vinci: The Secrets of History's Most Creative Genius, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Alfred Molina, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2017.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Isaacson has several very impressive biographies to his credit. They include biographical books on Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Kissinger. This book, like Isaacson's other biographical works, is based on meticulous research. Normally, writing about a 15th-century personality would be difficult, but da Vinci was a very helpful subject in this regard, because he kept detailed notebooks in which he recorded his ideas, sketches, designs, attempts at solving mathematical problems, records of his expenses, and almost everything else he did.
Da Vinci always carried a small notebook with him and sketched people in various poses, as he encountered them, because he felt he might forget important details. Later, he combined his acute eye for detail with a comprehensive study of the human body, muscles in particular, to produce more realistic paintings and sculptures. Isaacson estimates that about a quarter of da Vinci's notebooks have survived, but then points out that he had more information to work with here than provided by the entire collection of Steve Jobs' documents and e-mails!
Da Vinci was easily distracted and seldom finished projects which he started. For example, he spent much time on building an enormous statue of a man on horse, for which he devoted countless hours perfecting his knowledge of horses, their motions, and structure of their bones and muscles. He led the project to the stage of producing a single-piece casting mold that was larger than anything attempted earlier, but the statue was never built. Ditto for many paintings, bridges, buildings, weapons, and flying contraptions he dreamt up, all of which remained at the sketch or design stage.
Da Vinci was quite unique in the way he combined art and science. His wide-ranging passions that contributed to his unique position at the art-science boundary included theatrical production, architecture, anatomy, physiology, and engineering. His endless curiosity, careful observation, and playful imagination made him arguably the most creative genius in history.
In a way, da Vinci needed to be a creative genius in order to fit in. He was a misfit in many ways: illegitimate, a homosexual, a vegetarian, and left-handed, during a period of history when each of these attributes was enough for being sidelined or even expurgated. He is considered by many a true model of a Renaissance man.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Tech humor: Developer of iPhone's autocorrect feature owns up to his mistakes and apologizes to us!
- Visualizing Iran's currency devaluation, in very rough terms, by considering what 20K Tomans buys you.
- Illusion of control: The world is full of buttons that don't actually do anything, by design!
- Dutch company starts a new trend: A multi-level floating dairy farm near the center of Rotterdam.
- Sign of the times: "Waxing center" ad displayed in a prominent location on the UCSB Campus. [Photo]
- Dancing to the Azeri tune "Sani Deililar" ("They're Calling You"): A new social-media campaign/craze.
- "It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." ~ Henry David Thoreau
(3) Are US Democrats shooting themselves in the foot? The trend is clear: Inexperienced outsiders are winning primary elections and ousting incumbent Democrats at state and national levels. In one sense, this is refreshing, because incumbent Democrats aren't any less guilty than Republicans in the current state of our politics and our government's sell-out to big business. Yet, I can't help but fear that these fresh faces will not have the know-how and support structure to defeat the well-funded Republican fear/smut machinery in November. But I do hope that my fear proves misguided.

2018/09/04 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Brazil's National Museum in Rio gutted by fire My first pomegranate purchase of the season Art Deco toaster, 1920s (1) Some newsworthy/interesting images: [Left] Brazil's National Museum gutted by fire: Unimaginable loss of treasure in the 200-year-old Rio institution. [Center] My first pomegranate purchase of the season: They arrive in Santa Barbara much later than in Los Angeles. [Right] Art Deco toaster, 1920s.
(2) This "equal earth projection" map has been developed by scientists to correct centuries of misrepresentation that depicts Europe & North America much larger, and Africa & South America much smaller, than their true sizes. On some current maps, Greenland appears nearly as large as Africa.
(3) Will Donald Trump's "friends" learn from the fate of punching-bag Jeff Sessions or do they think they are somehow special and utterly indispensable to The Don?
(4) New poll shows surging disapproval rating for Trump: But if we learned anything from 2016, it's to not let our participation slip when polls favor us.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Bob Woodward explains to Donald Trump how he tried to talk to him about his forthcoming book.
- Bob Woodward's forthcoming book reportedly tells of Mattis privately expressing his disdain for Trump.
- Soccer analogy: Trump wants Jeff Sessions to play goalie, but he wants to be a striker.
- Did you know that fighting is going on in Tripoli, Libya? Rival militias have caused 50 deaths just this week.
- Franklin family criticizes pastor for inappropriately political eulogy that included little about Aretha.
- Crooks in the White House: Kushner amassed $350K in unpaid fines while heading the family business.
- Cornell University's engineering class of 2022 contains equal numbers of men and women.
- iPad that rolls up to fit in your pocket: The final product will likely be more compact than this prototype.
- A beautiful Persian dance: Short 1-minute segment of a longer routine.
- "[A] dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher ... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot." ~ Douglas Adams
(6) Reza Khandan, Nasrin Sotoudeh's husband, who posted updates about the human rights activist's latest imprisonment, has been arrested in Iran.
(7) Google is trying to fix the URL mess: As they stand now, URLs are pretty much unreadable, because they contain much junk in the form of random-looking symbol strings. So, it's impossible to deduce which site you are connecting to and whether the site can be trusted. The long, unwieldy URLs won't even display in full on most browsers, particularly on mobile devices, creating deception opportunities for cyber-criminals. Fixing the mess has proven more difficult than initially thought, leading to the need for more effort.

2018/09/03 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photo of Iranologist Ehsan Yarshater (1) Ehsan Yarshater [1920-2018] passed away on September 1: An Ironologist and Editor of Encyclopedia Iranica, Yarshater was the founder and director of Center for Iranian Studies, and Hagop Kevorkian Professor Emeritus of Iranian Studies at Columbia University. He was widely honored by awards and scholarships and by lecture series bearing his name. A major loss to Iran lovers and scholars worldwide. May he rest in peace!
[Web site] [Wikipedia entry] [Encyclopedia Iranica] [BBC tribute]
(2) An average of 10 ships have sunk per year over the past decade because of liquefaction, when solid cargo loaded directly onto the ships' holds turns into liquid.
(3) Modern Persian music: Ziba Shirazi's "Mard-e Man" ("My Man"). This rather romantic song is labeled by Amazon.com as "explicit"!
(4) "Hunting for Peru's Lost Civilizations": This 7-minute TED talk by Sarah Parcak is one of several talks on what is known as "space archaeology," the discovery of ancient sites using aerial and satellite imagery.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump celebrates Labor Day by criticizing the head of the country's largest federation of labor unions.
- Former President Obama's awe-inspiring eulogy at John McCain's memorial service in Washington, DC.
- Barack Obama and Meghan McCain slammed by Trump supporters for their John McCain eulogies.
- Mother of a vacationing family of five is the only survivor of a kayaking accident in Wisconsin.
- Billboard reminds Texans that the Lyin' Trump, who now supports Ted Cruz, has blasted him many times.
- California leads again: New law improves transparency through public access to internal police documents.
- US salaries of holders of 4-year college degrees: Starting, median, and different percentiles. [Article]
Happy Labor Day: Banner, with US flag (6) Not much to celebrate for labor: Today is Labor Day in the US. The first Labor Day Parade was held in New York City on September 5, 1882. On that day, 136 years ago, participants began from City Hall, marched past viewing stands at Union Square, and assembled in Wendel's Elm Park for a picnic, concert, and speeches. This year's celebration is marred by broad assaults on, and proposed curtailments of, labor rights, including restrictions on unionization, elimination or reduction of minimum wage, relaxation of safety regulations, stagnant wages, and arbitrary dismissals. Such assaults often come with misguided laws and misleading slogans, such as "Right to Work," which really means crushing labor unions to keep wages low.
(7) A final thought for this Labor Day: "Of life's two chief prizes, beauty and truth, I found the first in a loving heart and the second in a laborer's hand." ~ Khalil Gibran

2018/09/01 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Taking frozen long-johns off the washing line, 1940s Iran's pyramid: A cartoon by Mana Neyestani III Anna S. C. Blake, founder of a manual-training school bearing her name, that eventually became UCSB (1) Some interesting images: [Left] Taking frozen long-johns off the washing line, 1940s. [Center] Iran's pyramid: A cartoon by Mana Neyestani III. [Right] This photograph, shot through a frame with glass, is from a UCSB library exhibit that tells the story of how a "manual training" school, founded in 1892 by Anna S. C. Blake, a wealthy Bostonian who relocated to Santa Barbara, became known for its progressive and holistic educational programs and was eventually absorbed into the UC system to become UCSB.
(2) Not the enemy of the people: In a wonderfully-written and highly emotional essay, the wife of a journalist who died of cancer at the age of 41, calls out President Trump for his callous attacks on the press.
(3) Matrescence: A word meaning transition to motherhood, in the same way that adolescence means transition to adulthood. Both transitions are difficult due to hormonal changes, but, whereas adolescence has been studied extensively, there is much less work on matrescence, which is often mistaken for postpartum depression. An excellent 6-minute TED talk!
(4) Fake news from Saudi Arabia: With nearly 7000 people killed and more than 10,000 injured in Yemen, the Saudis have the audacity to maintain that they helped "alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people."
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- "Saturday Night Live" will re-air its John McCain episode tonight. I've heard it's really funny!
- Spot-on observation on the weirdness of waking up in the middle of the night to tweet in all caps. [Meme]
- Some answers about how our internal clocks perceive and keep time.
- Persian poetry: An exquisite love poem from Sa'adi.
- Persian music: wonderful violin performance on the street.
- The dance tune from "Zorba the Greek" performed with tar, a traditional musical instrument from Iran.
(6) Bald lie: "The president asked me to be here on behalf of a grateful nation, to pay a debt of honor and respect to a man who served our country throughout his life, in uniform and in public office." ~ VP Mike Pence
(7) Iranian politician Mir-Hossein Mousavi, after 8 years of living under house arrest and before it: Eight years of effective imprisonment, with no trial or even charges. [Photos]
(8) Quote: "We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness. The real thing — not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly." ~ Meghan McCain (John's daughter)

2018/08/30 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Pizzeria augments the 'table' at the center of pizza boxes with chairs! Princess Esmat al-Dowleh, daughter of Nasar al-Din Shah Qajar, in a photo taken by her husband in the late 1800s The stain on Senator John McCain's legacy (1) Some interesting images: [Left] Pizzeria augments the "table" at the center of pizza boxes with chairs! [Center] It is often said that Iranian women are beautiful. I agree, but standards of beauty change over time. This image shows Princess Esmat al-Dowleh [1855/6-1905], daughter of Nasar al-Din Shah Qajar, in a photo taken by her husband in the late 1800s. [Right] The stain on Senator John McCain's legacy.
(2) National University of Singapore students demonstrate a quadcopter drone that is fully powered by the sun. This Wired article, which includes a video, stipulates on the size and weight scalability of the concept.
(3) Climate change: Miami's water-drainage canals, which help with getting rid of rainwater from its very flat surface, constitute the world's most-complex water management system. But it only takes a few feet of sea-level rise to overwhelm the system and put Miami under water.
(4) Forget supersonic and hypersonic planes: Airlines and airplane manufacturers are working on 20-hour flights, featuring on-board gyms, beds, and other amenities.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- VP Mike Pence tweets wistfully about "a more respectful time" and is called out for his hypocrisy. [Tweet]
- Trump wanted to buy decades of "dirt" that National Enquirer had on him.
- "Will the last GOP statesman out of the Congress please turn off the light?" [Cartoon about John McCain]
- Some customers of In-n-Out cannot stomach the fast-food chain's donation to California Republicans.
- UCSB upperclassmen scare the already-terrified freshmen in the campus student newspaper.
- Informative maps that show how land is used in the continental United States.
- Nostalgia: Ads for products and services, from Iranian print media of yore. Dates are unspecified.
(6) Human Error in Computer Systems: This is the title of a 1983 book by Robert W. Bailey, which I have used as a reference for my graduate-level course on fault-tolerant computing.
Hand-printing errors, which arose when manually-written texts and filled-out forms were keyed in by operators, are no longer common with today's technology, but examining this table from Appendix A (p. 123), listing error rates in interpreting hand-printed English alphanumeric characters, is instructive nonetheless, particularly as it provides us with a sense of the even greater error-proneness of the Persian script.
The least error-prone alphanumeric symbols, with error rates of less than 1%, are: W, M, 3, 7, A, 9, E, C.
Near the high end of the error spectrum, with error rates of around 5%, are: N, 0, 5, J, V, G.
Particularly error-prone are the letters Z (13%) and I (25%).
The book's Appendix B (pp. 124-126) discusses methods of quantifying readability.

2018/08/29 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meeting with FIFA President, Trump was gifted a set of referee cards and immediately issued a red card to the media (1) Meeting with FIFA President about the 2026 World Cup in North America, Trump was gifted a set of referee cards and immediately issued a red card to the media. Robert Mueller reportedly has a set of the same cards!
(2) Tweets, sermons, speeches, they are all being archived and will be used as evidence: Apparently, an attorney representing the US in the international tribunal to which Iran has taken a complaint about the unfairness and debilitating effects of US sanctions, has introduced as evidence a part of a sermon/speech by Supreme Leader Khamenei, in which he mused that the economic chaos in the country is not due to sanctions but internal mismanagement.
(3) [For map lovers] Free to AAA members via local branches: A collection of historical maps, with the first in the series being a 1930 map of Metropolitan Los Angeles.
(4) Are college librarians entitled to academic freedom? The question was put to test during negotiations between UC administration and UC-AFT (American Federation of Teachers), with the former arguing that academic freedom pertains only to faculty members and students in classroom settings and the latter favoring extension of the privilege to librarians, who are already considered academic employees. Such an extension seems reasonable in my view, given that, in choosing books and journal holdings, librarians need to exercise independent judgment, without pressure from outside groups. [Faculty Associations' letter of support]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- California becomes the first major US state to mandate carbon-free electricity generation by 2045.
- Hyperpolyglots, people who speak dozens of languages, provide insights into learning and brain function.
- A fun place to visit: Museum of Illusions, 6751 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles. (Also, in SF)
- Imprisonment of political dissenters continues in Iran: Facebook post about Roya Saghiri.
- Iranian folk music: A song from the western Iranian province of Lorestan.
- Persian poetry: A poem by Mahasti Ganjavi, a female poet who lived nine centuries ago. [Read]
(6) Sexism in US Tennis: Female tennis player was charged with a violation for flipping her shirt, which she had been wearing backwards, whereas male players go bare-chested all the time with no fines.
(7) No, months that have 5 Sundays, 5 Mondays, and 5 Tuesdays aren't rare or very special: Claims such as this one pop up on social media quite frequently. So, here I try to dispel one such myth. Any 31-day month has five instances of its first three days of the week (on the dates 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 for the first one, 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 for the second one, and 3, 10, 17, 24, 31 for the third one). On average, one in every 7 months begins on a Sunday. Given that there are seven 31-day months in every year, one should expect a month with 5 Sundays, 5 Mondays, and 5 Tuesdays to occur once per year on average.

2018/08/28 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine covers over the past few months, telling the story of Trump in a storm of his own making (1) Time magazine covers over the past few months, telling the story of Trump in a storm of his own making.
(2) Trump's hollow comments on Jacksonville mass shooting, coming after a long delay: "That was a terrible thing, indeed, and how it happens, nobody really knows. But they've done an incredible job down in Jacksonville as they always do in Florida, and throughout the country, but — condolences."
(3) All crooks cry "witch hunt" when exposed: In 2002, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Pope Francis' right-hand man and closest adviser, characterized media reports of abuse by Catholic priests as "witch hunts." [Source: Time magazine] [Uncredited on-line photo of Maradiaga with Pope Francis]
(4) Quote: "We accept the moral obligation of Germany, in whose name terrible injustice was committed under the Nazis." ~ Heiko Maas, German FM, on the deportation from US of former Nazi guard Jaklw Palij
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Donald Trump's pettiness on full display over how he dealt with Senator John McCain's death.
- Crooks in the White House: Kushner companies fined for falsifying construction permits.
- Trump supporter Paris Dennard suspended by CNN for revelations about his record of sexual misconduct.
- Brazil may ditch democracy to elect its own version of Trump, "law and order" candidate Jair Bolsonaro.
- A woman who had tried everything for irritable bowel syndrome was cured by a placebo self-treatment.
- Lessons from Cyrus the Great on how to run a multi-ethnic, multi-faith society. [2-minute video]
- Iran's parliament refers President Rouhani to the judiciary over the mishandling of Iran's economic woes.
- "Hoghoogh-e Bashar" ("Bashar's rights") vs. "Hoghoogh-e bashar" ("Human rights"): Cartoon from 2013.
(6) This amazing 1-minute video of all NYT front pages since its initial publication in 1852 clearly shows how the front-page format has changed from exclusively textual to an increasing proportion of images.
(7) We have all heard about official flowers, birds, and fruit for states, but did you know that California also has a state dinosaur, Auggie? [Image]
(8) Wrong number, right person: A year ago, a man mistakenly sent a message to a woman he didn't know on WhatsApp. They went on their first date that night and got married three months later! [From: Time magazine]

2018/08/27 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Katherine Johnson, science pioneer of the 'Hidden Figures' fame, is celebrating her 100th birthday today Racism in Iran: A neighborhood in the southern city of Yazd puts up a sign to ban Afghans from entering Mevlana Museum (Rumi's tomb) in Konya, Turkey (1) Topical and interesting images: [Left] Katherine Johnson, science pioneer of the "Hidden Figures" fame, is celebrating her 100th birthday today. [Center] Racism in Iran: A neighborhood in the southern city of Yazd puts up a sign to ban Afghans from entering. [Right] Mevlana Museum (Rumi's tomb) in Konya, Turkey.
(2) Investing in research and development: R&D spending by the top ten countries in the world ranges from $480B (USA) to $40B (Russia). Iran appears near the southeast corner of this chart with $4B.
[P.S.: Per-capita spending stats would have been more useful.]
(3) Cyber border-walls: The national security challenge of the future does not come from people walking across physical borders but from hackers crossing cyber-boundaries.
(4) The reading brain: UCLA neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf, author of Reader, Come Home, is horrified by what has happened to her ability to concentrate in the age of electronic communication and e-readers.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- France joins Germany in maintaining that Europe can no longer rely on the US for its security.
- The links between the men behind Brexit and the Trump Campaign. [NPR's "Fresh Air" podcast]
- Instead of shielding students, SoE Betsy DeVos has chosen to protect friends operating for-profit colleges.
- Persian-language tweet of the day: Calling for civility in social-media interactions.
- College diploma at 105: Now go and update your LinkedIn profile, young man!
- Iranian diva Googoosh's full concert at Hollywood Bowl (May 12, 2018). [114-minute video]
(6) On the power of regulations: "Facebook's conduct with Cambridge Analytica was illegal in the U.K. and punished. The same conduct was only 'irresponsible' in the U.S. with no legal consequences, and nothing to prevent it happening again." ~ Communications of the ACM Editor-in-Chief Andrew A. Chien, writing in the September 2018 issue of the ACM publication
(7) Architecture for neural-network processing assist: This image shows the block diagram and chip area allocation for a domain-specific architecture to significantly speed up the processing functions needed for deep neural networks. [Source: Communications of the ACM, Vol. 61, No. 9, September 2018, pp. 50-59]
(8) "RBG: Hero, Icon, Dissenter": This critically acclaimed CNN-produced film, which I enjoyed at a theater a couple of months ago, is set for TV broadcast on Monday, September 3 (CNN, 6:00 and 9:00 PM PDT).
(9) [Final thought for the day] The late Senator John McCain's wishes for his funeral include speeches by former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (both having defeated him in elections) and explicit instructions that Donald Trump not be invited to attend.

2018/08/26 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Colorful flowers, in 4 panels Logical reasoning puzzle: Which of the three options at the bottom belongs where we have a question mark? A kindergarten in Helsinki, Finland, 1890 (1) Some interesting images: [Left] Colorful flowers. [Center] Logical reasoning puzzle: Which of the three options at the bottom belongs where we have a question mark? [Right] A kindergarten in Helsinki, 1890.
(2) Leaking of phone numbers almost as bad as SSNs: Identity thieves can easily integrate data from multiple database breaches, because all databases contain phone numbers.
(3) "If You Could Read My Mind": Guitarist Pavlov plays a Mediterranean fusion version of the oldie classic. (Song starts at the 1:56 mark of this video.) [Post inspired by a PBS concert I watched on KCET last night.]
(4) Multiple deaths and injuries reported for the magnitude-6.0 quake in the western Iranian city of Kermanshah. The devastated region has been shaking continuously over the past few months.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona dead at 81, a day after ceasing treatment for cancer.
- Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon dead at 91.
- Hawaii grapples with Hurricane Lane. [Pictorial]
- The go-to button is again pressed for Jacksonville shooting victims and the matter will soon be forgotten.
- NotPetya: The fast-spreading Russian malware behind the most-devastating cyber-attack ever.
- Venmo: The default public setting of all transactions, which few bother to change, creates many risks.
- Iran's Finance Minister Masoud Karbasian impeached by the parliament amid economic woes.
- Miye, the matriarch of my son's Aikido school in Goleta, celebrated her 100th birthday yesterday.
(6) Trump expresses sympathies and respect to McCain's family, without praising the man himself: "My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!"
(7) John McCain was a hero and a decent man, but we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that by giving voice to Sarah Palin and her ilk, he unleashed the Trump monster!
(8) College soccer: In its second match of the season, the UCSB Men's soccer team took on UC Riverside this evening. The final score was UCSB 3-1 UCR, with UCSB scoring in minutes 38, 56, and 90, and UCR scoring on a defensive mix-up in minute 85. By the way, we Gauchos are excited that this year's College Cup (the final-four tournament of college soccer) will be held here at Harder Stadium on December 7 and 9, 2018.

Cover image for the book 'Homo Deus' 2018/08/25 (Saturday): Book review: Harari, Yuval Noah, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Derek Perkins, Harper Audio, 2017. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book complements Harari's 2017 book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which I have reviewed before on GoodReads and elsewhere. In Sapiens, Harari took an expansive look at human history, not just spanning a few millenia for which we have written historical records of human development and the rise and fall of empires, but beginning with our genetic ancestors and ending with how the human species is changing as we speak.
In Homo Deus, Harari, professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presents an account of how our species came to dominate the Earth, wiping out many other species, including competing human species (such as Neanderthals), and changing the world around us, to the extent that nothing resembles its natural state. My first exposure to this new book was through an engaging UCSB lecture by its author on February 27, 2017.
The theme of Homo Deus is that we are moving from the two previous stages of authority in human societies, that is, theism (listen to the Bible or some other holy book) and the more-recent humanism (listen to your feelings or inner voice), to what he calls dataism (listen to the data, that is, to Google and Amazon). In other words, authority is now shifting from human beings to algorithms, which are, or can be, much more accurate in arriving at correct decisions.
Presently, human feelings are the supreme source of authority, as reflected in the sayings "customer is always right," "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," and "if it feels good, do it!" And this kind of humanistic thinking permeates every facet of our lives, be it economics, aesthetics, education, ethics, and so on. The main threat to this humanistic view is emerging from laboratories, where scientists are becoming convinced that feelings are nothing but biochemical algorithms.
Humanism is based in large parts on the notion of free will, which is facing increasing skepticism. The day isn't far when Google or Amazon know you better than you do yourself. This supremacy of data is already a reality in medicine, where genes can predict future ailments, even though the patient "feels" perfectly fine. Today, we are in the process of completing the hacking of human brain. It is possible that we reach the conclusion that the brain isn't the mind or that we can stop the march of technology, which is, after all, not deterministic, but there is an immense momentum in the direction of algorithms taking over our lives.
Algorithms that are smarter and more capable than us humans may someday discard us, and our biochemical existence, as a mere nuisance. In a way, such algorithms may look upon us the way we now look at pets and other animals. The Internet of all things will provide perfect information for all decisions, obviating the need for reliance on our subjective decision-making capability, which is ill-suited to the needs of today, having evolved for coping with challenges of life in the African savannah.
Technology has already weakened some human abilities. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had much more acute senses of taste and smell that helped them refrain from eating poisonous mushrooms, for example. They were also better at interpreting environmental cues, because their survival depended on these abilities. Now, you buy your food at the supermarket and put it in your mouth, while watching TV or reading e-mail, barely tasting or smelling what you eat. Likewise, the day may come when we cannot navigate on our own and become totally dependent on Google Maps.
I end my review of Homo Deus with an interesting personal story Harari told during his lecture at UCSB: Jerusalem is a hotbed of chaos and conflict. However, there is one day each year when Jews, Muslims, and Christians come together and chant the same slogans in condemning the annual Gay Pride Parade!

2018/08/24 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. Montmartre, Paris, 1952
Night fishing in Hawaii, 1948 Location of Shockley Lab, where the first silicon devices were fabricated (391 San Antonio Rd., Mountain View, CA), marked by IEEE as the birthplace of Silicon Valley (1) History in pictures: [Left] Montmartre, Paris, 1952. [Center] Night fishing in Hawaii, 1948. [Right] Location of Shockley Lab, where the first silicon devices were fabricated (391 San Antonio Rd., Mountain View, CA), marked by IEEE as the birthplace of Silicon Valley.
(2) Trump continues to hit his favorite punching bag: I am beginning to think that perhaps Jeff Sessions, by not resigning after much indignity, is making sacrifices to save our country from Trump. Ditto for John Kelly.
(3) The stock market continues to thrive, despite worsening legal troubles for Trump: Investors are essentially saying, "Tell me something I don't know, or at least I didn't expect." And this is why big-investor-supported Republicans might never turn on Trump.
(4) Part of the new Republican platform on sanctity of marriage: Marriage is between a man, a woman, a few mistresses, and a porn star or two thrown in for good measure.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hurricane Lane (now category 4) is the closest a category-5 storm has ever gotten to Hawaii.
- Trump attacks one felon (Michael Cohen) while smothering lavish praise on another (Paul Manafort).
- A reminder that the trend of declining unemployment rate dates back to 2012. [Chart]
- Don't want Google to track you? Well, tough luck: You have no choice, especially if you use Android.
- Growing and harvesting walnuts in Australia. [4-minute video]
- Kabob, Iranian style: For your viewing pleasure, as dinner hour approaches [1-minute video]
(6) The US President communicates (if you can call this communication) with his Attorney General via Twitter: He has no understanding of the fact that justice does not care about this side and the other side. Judges, prosecutors, and juries can have any party affiliation, without affecting their work. There is no law that requires a Republican to be investigated or prosecuted by a Republican. [Tweet]
(7) Republicans flip-flop on Jeff Sessions and his potential firing: Rather then abandoning Trump, now that they realize he is a crook, several Republicans have rallied to his support. Here is what Senator Lindsey Graham had said about the possible firing of Sessions: "I'm 100% behind Jeff Sessions. If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay." And here is Graham's most recent musing about the matter: "The President's entitled to having an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that is qualified for the job and I think there will come a time sooner rather than later where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice. Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn't have the confidence of the President."
(8) My daughter and I went for an evening walk on UCSB's West Campus beach and got soaked when we made a run to reach the stairs, as decent-sized waves came crashing in!
(9) College soccer: After an impressive 7-0 win in an exhibition game against cross-town rival Westmont, the UCSB Gauchos Men's soccer team faced St. John's of New York in its season opener tonight. UCSB won the match 2-0, scoring on a header from a cross coming for the left and on an unassisted fast-break goal.

2018/08/23 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The latest title in 'The Little Golden Book' educational series for children Trump Tower in a prison compound Offering free gas to customers, without any real possibility of losing money (1) A collection of funny images: [Left] The latest title in 'The Little Golden Book' educational series for kids. [Center] Prison compound. [Right] Offering free gas to customers, without any real possibility of losing money.
(2) Quote of the day: "Men cannot control themselves ... so all of society has to adapt." ~ Gwendoline Goipeault, activist at Femmes Solidaires, on open-air urinals installed around Paris (This quote can be re-used for mandatory hijab laws in Iran and elsewhere.)
(3) The woman who was transformed in two decades from the belle of the progressive SF Bay Area (wife of Mayor Gavin Newsom) to the princess of MAGA-land (new love interest of Donald Trump Jr.).
(4) Michael Cohen has deleted this December 19, 2015, tweet aimed at Hillary Clinton: "When you go to prison for defrauding America and perjury, your room and board will be free!"
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Here's what "the failing NYT" has to say about Michael Cohen's allegations and plea deal on its front page.
- Can you believe Trump supporters are still chanting "Lock Her Up," as close Trump advisers face jail time?
- Heroic rescue efforts in Kerala, India, after the region's historic floods.
- Missing-person case solved: Undocumented immigrant charged with the murder of Iowa jogger.
- How smart air-conditioners and water-heaters can be hijacked to bring the power grid down.
- Hundreds of Facebook accounts linked to Iran's global disinformation campaign shut down.
- Saudi Arabia set to execute a female political activist for the first time.
- Parody of Fox News coverage, while Cohen and Manafort were in court! [Image]
(6) [Humor from Twitter] CNN, NBC, BBC, ABC, AP: "Manafort and Cohen guilty!"
Fox News: "Hey, do you ever stare at one spot and zone out for a while? Crazy, right? What's up with that?"
(7) Humor from The Onion (picture Cohen & Giuliani): Law school applications skyrocket upon realization that any f...ing idiot can become a lawyer.
(8) "Loving Vincent": This is the title of a feature-length animated movie, screened at UCSB's Campbell Hall last night, as the last installment of this year's free summer cinema series. Hand-painted by some 100 artists, the film, which mimics Vincent van Gogh's oil-painting style, is an apt artistic tribute to an extraordinary artist! The story revolves around a young man who goes to van Gogh's last hometown to deliver the troubled artist's final letter, but ends up investigating the circumstances surrounding his death. I learned from the film that van Gogh painted for only 8 years, leaving behind some 800 pieces of work. [IMDB entry for the 2017 film, which includes a trailer and many photos]

2018/08/22 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mobile office, 1961 Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles, 1971 Albert Einstein in front of bookcase, undated photo (1) History in pictures: [Left] Mobile office on the road, 1961. [Center] Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles, 1971. [Right] Albert Einstein in front of bookcase, undated photo.
(2) Putin's new hacking targets: Conservative think tanks that have broken with Trump and favor continued sanctions against Russia, expose oligarchs, or press for human rights.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Having decided they can't rely on America, the Germans are debating the merits of getting their own nukes.
- This bunch of mint I bought from Sprouts today is the freshest I have seen in my neck of the woods!
- I get sick just reading about this $75 burger: Forget about taking a bite of one! [Source: Time magazine]
- Get ready for a nationwide "free museum day" on Saturday, September 22, 2018.
- Humor: Amazon introduces its first regional adaptation of Echo: Shirin, or Alexa for Iranians.
- Persian pop music: Solo-violin rendition of the popular oldie "Shaneh."
- Azeri-Persian music: Aftab Choir performs "Sari Gelin" and a Persian version of it ("Daman-Keshan").
Cover image for Tom Hanks' 'Uncommon Type' (4) Book review: Hanks, Tom, Uncommon Type: Some Stories, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author and others, Random House Audio, 2017.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This collection of short stories by the double-Oscar-winning actor is a delight: Tender, absorbing, and quite varied, all 17 stories feature some kind of antique manual typewriter (Hanks collects them), either as a major element of the story or as an embellishment. From stories about immigrants fleeing persecution and soldiers distressed by combat to whimsical or funny tales involving space or time travel, for example, Hanks comes through with sweetness and compassion. Not a literary work, for sure, but enjoyable nonetheless.
(5) Spying plot by Iran alleged: Two men have been charged with serving as agents of Iran, monitoring Americans and a Jewish center. US Justice Department asserts that the men are part of a plot by the Iranian government to identify and eliminate political opponents.
(6) Trump's fall is accelerating: Michael Cohen's guilty plea includes admission that he broke campaign finance laws in collaboration with Trump and under his direction. Paul Manafort is convicted on 8 of the 18 charges brought against him. Maybe now the Republicans in Congress will take their heads out of the sand and do something to restore dignity to our government!

2018/08/21 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Griffiths Park Observatory sits majestically in front of the Los Angeles skyline: Day and night shots, at slightly different angles (1) Griffiths Park Observatory sits majestically in front of the Los Angeles skyline: Day and night shots, at slightly different angles.
(2) Move over oil, water is the new commodity to fight over! US and Mexico have been squabbling over the effects of climate change on Rio Grande's water deficit and Israel-Palestine-Jordan are all drawing water from Jordan River, causing the Dead Sea to become even deader.
(3) Stratolaunch unveils new rockets and space plane to launch from world's largest airplane: Using a plane to launch spacecraft is cost-effective, because much of the fuel in a conventional rocket is spent for getting through the lower parts of the atmosphere, with its relatively high density.
(4) Celebration of greatness, on both the giving and receiving ends, is awe-inspiring: The just-depated "Queen of Soul," Aretha Franklin, pays tribute to Carole King at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Dearth of drinking water and spreading of diseases main problems as floodwaters recede in Kerala, India.
- The US healthcare mess: A co-pay of $285 for a generic drug that an uninsured person can buy for $40!
- A sexual-solicitation trial in Thailand has surprising links to Paul Manafort and Russian oligarchs.
- Rudy Giuliani pulls a Schrodinger after CNN interview: Truth both is and isn't truth!
- Melania Trump addresses cyber-bullying summit: Donald was apparently not briefed on his wife's speech!
- The Eagles' "Greatest Hits" surpasses Michael Jackson's "Thriller" as best-selling album of all time.
- Robotics expert Nancy Amato is the first woman to lead the Department of Computer Science at U. Illinois.
- Interesting read on the rampant overuse of exclamation points in electronic communication.
(6) Archaeologists discover a lost city under a Kansas rural field: The unearthed ruins are believed to belong to Etzanoa, a city that was home to some 20,000 people between 1450 and 1700.
(7) For my SoCal readers: Excellent news programs on LA's independent station, KCET; DW News, 4:30-5:00, BBC World News America, 5:00-5:30; BBC World News, 6:00-6:30 (overlaps with KOCE's PBS Newshour).
(8) Final thought for the day: Former enablers and supporters of Trump are trying to wash themselves clean of the association, but I am not sure any amount of washing will remove the stench.

2018/08/20 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Sketch of the western Iranian city of Kermanshah from 1840 (1) Iran's recent history: This drawing is said to depict the western Iranian city of Kermanshah in the year 1840. It belonged to Pascal Coste, French architect and orientalist [1787-1879], whose Wikipedia entry reads, in part: "In Iran Coste and the painter Eugene Flandin were authorised to visit Azerbaijan, Isfahan, Shiraz and the ruins of Ecbatana, Bistun, Taq-e Bostan, Kangavar, Pasargadae and Persepolis, where he made many sketches."
(2) Perils of social media (actual UCSB e-mail alert, received today): "The UCSB Police Department received a report of a burglary that occurred at San Clemente Villages on 8/20/18, around 1:00am. The crime victim met the suspect on a social media site and invited the suspect to the victim's apartment. When the victim left the apartment to meet the suspect in the parking lot, the suspect gained entry into the apartment and stole items out of the residence before the victim returned from the parking lot."
(3) The noose is tightening: Bone-spurs Don attacks decorated Marine Corps hero and respected law-enforcement professional Bob Mueller; if only he showed the same outrage at Russia for meddling in our elections! "Disgraced and discredited Bob Mueller and his whole group of Angry Democrat Thugs spent over 30 hours with the White House Councel [sic], only with my approval, for purposes of transparency. Anybody needing that much time when they know there is no Russian Collusion is just someone looking for trouble. They are enjoying ruining people's lives and REFUSE to look at the real corruption on the Democrat side — the lies, the firings, the deleted Emails and soooo much more! Mueller's Angry Dems are looking to impact the election. They are a National Disgrace!"
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- California fires, including the largest in state's history (Mendocino complex), continue to burn.
- Trumpism's new addition to our lexicon: Move over "alternative facts"; make room for "truth isn't truth"!
- The paranoid clan: Eric Trump thinks that Reuters had ulterior motives in using an actual photo of his dad!
- Trump speech-writer who attended White Nationalist events has been fired.
- You can't buy class with any amount of money: Obamas, Clintons, and Trump on Aretha Franklin. [Meme]
- A documentary film about escaping the loop of poverty and the toxic masculinity in Rust-Belt America.
(5) California's Carr Fire was named for having started on Carr Powerhouse Road, not Car Fire, because it started by a disintegrating flat tire leading to sparks flying when the exposed rim hit the road.
(6) A heart-warming story amid conflicts: Daniel Barenboim, Israeli conductor and concert pianist, tries to bridge the Middle East divide with music. He brings together musicians from Israel, Palestine, Iran, and many other countries of the region, giving them a chance to get to know each other and to perform on the most prestigious stages worldwide. [15-minute segment in Sunday's "60 Minutes" program]

2018/08/18 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
(1) Book review: Tarshis, Lauren, I Survived the American Revolution, 1776, unabridged audiobook, read by Holter Graham, Scholastic Audio, 2017. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Cover image for 'I Survived the American Revolution, 1776 This book was a pleasant surprise! I borrowed it, because it was one of the few audiobooks that was available at the time; I had finished listening to all of my borrowed audiobooks, and none of the titles I had placed holds on was available yet. It is a young-reader's title in an action-packed historical-fiction series ("I Survived," #15).
A young boy escapes home and his cruel uncle to go to New York City in search of his father, unaware that one of the largest battles of the Revolutionary War, and the first one after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was raging there. This little-known, little-discussed, and badly-managed battle is referred to as the Brooklyn or Long Island Battle. Amid the bloody battlefield with many injured soldiers, the boy has to fight for his life.
At the end of the audiobook, the author shares how the book came about and how she did her research for it. The battle around NYC involved many British warships, along with quite a few filthy prison-ships used to hold captured American soldiers, as General George Washington's army fell apart. Much real history, such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the idiosyncrasies of slavery, is weaved into the fictional narrative.
(2) Persian music: Shahrdad Rohani conducts and Homay sings "Man keh Mi-Miram," a poem by Shams-e Khalkhali, and his own composition "Sarzamin-e Bi-Karan" [7-minute video]. And here is the old-time favorite "Bahar-e Delneshin," with Isfahan's historical sites in the background [4-minute video].
(3) A game played on Facebook: Can you answer this? I am faced with the following problem. A murderer runs into a room and kills 4 of the 5 people there. I wonder how many people remain in that room afterwards. Comment with your answer and I'll inbox you if you're right or wrong. If wrong, you'll have to repost.
(4) Carillon concert at UCSB: All set on the lawn in front of UCSB's Storke Tower with my lawn chair, awaiting the start of a carillon concert by Margo Halsted as part of the Music Department's Summer Music Festival. My exposure to carillon as a musical instrument came from the 1953 film noire "Niagara," which, though rather cheesy in terms of its plot and execution, was nonetheless quite absorbing, particularly the way in which the two crime plotters, played by Marilyn Monroe (as an unhappily married woman) and Richard Allan (as her secret lover), communicated with each other via a song played on a carillon bell tower near the Falls, where requests could be submitted by the public. I find carillon music, and the way it is played, by banging on huge wooden keys connected to bell hammers, fascinating and attend them at UCSB whenever they are offered.

2018/08/17 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Poster for PBS 'Frontline' series 'Our Man in Tehran' (1) "Our Man in Tehran": In case you missed the two-part "Frontline" series, aired on August 13-14 on PBS So Cal (KOCE) and at various times on other PBS affiliate stations, below are links to the full episodes. NYT correspondent Thomas Erdbrink does a great job of humanizing Iranians for Westerners, who think they have "horns and tails."
Part 1 (115-minute video)   Part 2 (115-minute video)
(2) Quote of the day: "As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and complete nacissistic moron." ~ H. L. Mencken, 1920 (nearly a century ago)
(3) Rest in peace: Ezzatollah Entezami, well-known and widely-honored Iranian theater, cinema, and television actor, has passed away at 94. He was sometimes referred to as "ezzat" ("honor") of Iran's film industry. He also had a decent singing voice.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hundreds of US newspapers ran editorials on 8/16 that blasted Trump's "enemy of the people" rhetoric.
- US Senate unanimously adopts resolution declaring "the press is not the enemy of the people."
- Kellyanne Conway's husband trolls Trump on Twitter about his bashing of John Kasich. [Tweet image]
- Look who's talking about someone being intellectually limited: Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump!
- How die-hard "conservative" Republicans became ardent supporters of pot legalization.
- Finally, a "Make America Great Again" meme I can support! [Image]
- Cartoon of the day: Dictators of our own making. [Image]
- Human-rights lawyer Narges Mohammadi, serving a 16-year prison term in Iran, has been hospitalized.
(5) Flying a drone in Goleta, California: Prompted by concerns expressed by a neighbor, who saw a drone buzzing overhead as she relaxed on a sun-deck at home, an e-mail discussion ensued about whether flying drones is or should be allowed in our housing complex. The short answer is no, on at least two accounts. First, we are considered part of the UCSB campus, which has a no-drone policy. Second, we are within a 5-mile radius of an airport, which makes it illegal to fly drones out of concern for aviation safety.
I suggest those of you with similar concerns to familiarize yourselves with California (link) or other applicable state and municipal laws. Drones, which nowadays can be outfitted with high-definition cameras and AI tracking technology, pose serious privacy risks.
(6) UCSB Department of Music's Summer Music Festival: The local band Mariachi Las Olas de Santa Barbara performed at UCSB's Multicultural Center Theater, beginning at 5:30 this afternoon [Video 1] [Video 2]. Later in the evening, the Department's graduate students performed in a showcase concert at Karl Geiringer Hall. More events are scheduled for tomorrow, but I will attend only the carillon concert at 3:00 PM. [Photos]

2018/08/16 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for Ken Follett's 'World Without End' (1) Book review: Follett, Ken, World Without End, unabridged audiobook, read by John Lee, Penguin Audio, 2007.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This best-selling 2007 historical novel is a sequel to Follett's 1989 book, The Pillars of the Earth. The story follows descendants of characters in the original book. Follett includes in the story two major historical events: The start of Hundred Years' War and the Black Death.
Follet's action-filled romp through the Middle Ages features much of the period's standard fare: Plots to overthrow kings, secret love affairs, revenge, and good-guy/bad-guy conflicts. The events unfold in the context of progress and progressive minds, as transformative ideas about medicine, commerce, architecture, and justice intersect.
As usual, Follett's historical research is meticulous, making the fictional tale feel like nonfiction. And he spares no details, leading to a very long book. For example, in one passage, Follet describes how a live man was skinned as punishment, with all the gruesome step-by-step process of cutting and pulling back!
World Without End has garnered 10,000+ reviews on GoodReads and 3500+ on Amazon, most reviewers giving it 5 stars. The novel has formed the basis of a 2012 TV miniseries, starring Cynthia Nixon, Miranda Richardson, and Peter Firth.
(2) Comparable number of deaths to Italy's highway bridge collapse, but much less news coverage: Twenty-two Sudanese children die on sinking boat while headed to school.
(3) You know our country is descending into the abyss of incivility when the White House defends Trump's use of the "dog" label for Omarosa as simply a routine insult!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Suicide bombing kills 50 in Afghanistan, mostly teens studying for university entrance exams.
- Aretha Franklin, "The Queen of Soul," dead of pancreatic cancer at 76. [NYT obituary, with video]
- Sweden's tallest peak shrunk in height by 13 ft during July's glacier-melting heat wave. [Time magazine]
- Catholic Church cover-up: Ousted pedophile priest was given reference letter for a job at Disney World!
- Ignorant Fox News anchor attacks Denmark by comparing it to Venezuela, and lives to regret it!
- Cartoon of the day: Paul Manafort's new outfit, in lieu of expensive suits. [Cartoon image]
- California Representative Maxine Waters gets under Trump's skin with her tweets. [Tweet image]
- Poignant T-shirt message about kneeling to Trump and like-minded people. [T-shirt image]
- Persian poetry: A beautiful couplet, entitled "Jodaaee" ("Separation") by Rahi Moayeri.
- Persian music: A dance piece composed by Mahin Zarinpanjeh and arranged/conducted by Houman Dehlavi.
(5) Reaction to revoking John Brennan's security clearance from retired US Navy Admiral William McRaven: "I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency."

2018/08/15 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The three ACM/IEEE curricula from 2001, 2008, and 2013 compared (1) Trends in computer science and engineering education: The three ACM/IEEE curricula from 2001, 2008, and 2013 are compared in the accompanying table (adapted from the May 2018 issue of Computing Edge), which shows the shift of emphasis in terms of the number of instructional hours among various "Knowledge areas." The total number of hours for a particular area in the 2013 curriculum is the sum of Tier-1 and Tier-2 entries. We see that three new Knowledge area designations appeared in 2013: Parallel and distributed computing (15 hours); Information assurance and security (9 hours); Systems fundamentals (27 hours). The number of hours for Architecture and organization is substantially reduced from 36 to 16, with some of the lost hours reclaimed under Parallel and distributed computing. The other major adjustment is the increase from 21 to 28 hours allocated to Programming languages. The next iteration of the joint curriculum will likely acknowledge data science as a separate knowledge area. Here are some possible program units.
All Tier 1 + All Tier 2 = 308
All Tier 1 + 90% of Tier 2 ~ 294 (comparable to CS2008 Core)
All Tier 1 + 80% of Tier 2 ~ 279 (comparable to CS2001 Core)
(2) Trump confidante and adviser Roger Stone briefly posted and later deleted this image about Space Force, which confused everyone. If it was meant as humor, then it seems all Trumpians are humor-challenged!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- More reports of sexual abuse by Catholic priests are emerging. Will the Church be held accountable?
- Shame on the "American Riviera": Santa Barbara has the third-highest poverty rate among CA counties.
- The role played by Iranian-Armenians in protecting and advancing Persian music. [6-minute video]
- More adult Americans are sharing their homes with people other than spouses or family members.
- Spike Lee is back with "BlacKkKlansman," a film that will change our attitudes about race and racism.
- Installation of open-air public urinals in Paris to solve the street urination problem causes an uproar.
(4) Republicans are going about their business as if all is normal in the White House, while the President is engaged in shouting insults at anyone who displays the slightest disagreement with him. Vote them out!
(5) A taxonomy of on-line trolling: In an interesting article in the August 2018 issue of IEEE Computer magazine, Hal Berghel and Daniel Berleant list and discuss the following varieties of trolling: Provocation; Social-engineering; Partisan; Firehose; Ad hominem; Jam; Sport; Snag; Nuisance; Diversion; False-flag; Huckster; Amplification/relay; Rehearsal; Proxy; Faux-facts; Insult; Public relations; Chaff; Wheat; Satire. A very interesting and eye-opening read.
(6) "User Data Privacy: Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and Privacy Protection": This is the title of an article by Jim Isaak and Mina J. Hanna in the August 2018 issue of IEEE Computer magazine. The authors identify the following core principles of privacy and data protection: Public transparency; Disclosure for users; Control; Notification. [I could not find a public link to the full article. I will update this post when I find a link.]

2018/08/14 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page receive IEEE Computer Society's 2018 Computer Pioneer Award Dr. John Goodenough, now 96, helped invent the batteries that power our smartphones and tablets. Faces of courage, as wildfires rage in California and elsewhere (1) Some faces in the news: [Left] Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page receive IEEE Computer Society's 2018 Computer Pioneer Award "For the creation of the Google search engine and leadership in creating ambitious products and research initiatives." [Center] Dr. John Goodenough helped invent the batteries that power our smartphones and tablets. Now, at 96, this World War II veteran and "Energizer-bunny" technologist keeps going and going on bringing about the next-generation of device batteries that provide more power and charge faster. [Right] Faces of courage, as wildfires rage in California and elsewhere.
(2) If it took Omarosa nearly a year at a high-level White House insider position to "gradually awaken" to Trump's "bigoted outlook," then perhaps Trump is right in considering her not very bright!
(3) Our Man in Tehran: This is the title of a 2-part "Frontline" program, the first of which aired last night and the second will air tonight, 9:00-11:00, on PBS SoCal (KOCE). New York Times correspondent Thomas Erdbrink journeys into a private Iran that is at odds with its conservative clerics and other leaders.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump signs defense bill named for John McCain, without mentioning his name.
- Heavy rains cause flash-flood emergencies in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
- Highway bridge collapse over Italian city leaves at least 22 dead.
- Jeremy Corbyn, Britain's possible next PM, faces broad allegations of anti-Semitism from Jewish leaders.
- Old news: Cambridge Analytica whistleblower claims that the Brexit vote was influenced by data mining.
- Cartoon of the day: Iran is bullied into accepting a significantly reduced share of the Caspian Sea. [Image]
- Ten-day forecast in paradise: Santa Barbara's weather in the coming days!
- The Borowitz report: [on Omarosa] Trump says White House is no place for lying lowlife from reality show.
(5) How are soccer players tracked to determine the distance they cover in a game? This question arose in a recent discussion with a friend. Whereas we have the technology for detailed tracking by using microchips in a player's boot or clothing, the same way soccer balls are tracked, we suspected that this isn't the way it is done in official games. Here is what my on-line research revealed.
Coaches do use microchips to track their players during training "with systems like RedFIR, a German technology comprised of tiny (15 gram) radio transmitters that can be placed in uniforms, footwear or balls, and a network of receivers set up around the field. The system detects events like passes, crosses and goals, plus provides real-time info on player step count, speed, and distance covered. Fraunhofer IIS, the company that makes RedFIR, says that its radio-based system provides a major benefit over other tracking solutions: its tracking capability is not diminished by obstacles obscuring the line of sight."
FIFA is wary of adopting the aforementioned technology, in part because rule changes would be required and partly because players have not been very receptive of the idea. "FIFA relies on a visual tracking technology called 'Matrics' made by the Italian company Deltatre to provide data that make up the heat maps, passes completed and distance covered stats made available at the World Cup official site."
This YouTube video contains a visual demo of tracking soccer players from a 2015-2016 study.

2018/08/13 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Colorful flowers, version 1 Colorful flowers, version 2 Colorful flowers, version 3 (1) Colorful flowers of different kinds, for your viewing pleasure.
(2) Trump says he had been warned about not-so-smart Omarosa being trouble, but he still hired her and kept her at the WH because she said great things about him!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Bloomberg reports that smoke from California wildfires has caused a dip in solar-power production.
- Showdown at Justice Department: Donald Trump calls AG Jeff Sessions "scared stiff and missing in action."
- Self-repairing fabric fills up intentionally-created hole.
- Our amazing nature: Eagle outsmarts fox in epic battle over a caught rabbit.
- Recipe for feeling better in the morning: Feel free to substitute another name for "Ted Cruz."
- Quote of the day: "The world is but a canvas to our imagination." ~ Henry David Thoreau
Colorful flowers, version 4 (4) Mini-reunion in Sothern California: After the large July reunion of the class of 1968, Tehran University's College of Engineering, in Yerevan, Armenia, we had a small-scale get-together of college buddies who reside or happened to be in SoCal, on Sunday 8/12, starting with tea and various treats at Faramarz's place and ending with dinner at a Brazilian restaurant in West LA. Seated left to right at the table are: Farid Dadgar, Faramarz Davarian, Javad Peyrovian, Mohammad Modarres, Behrooz Parhami.
(5) "King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh" exhibit at California Science Center: In an enjoyable Sunday afternoon outing, we visited a museum and attended a related IMAX film screening. The Boy-King's burial place was a secret, so as to foil grave robbers and ill-wishers who could destroy it. It wasn't until 1922 that the site was unearthed by chance, in what has been described as the greatest archaeological discovery of all time. Artifacts were meticulously catalogued and removed from the site, to be housed at a Cairo museum. The California Science Center exhibit is the world premier of this very special touring exhibit to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the tomb's discovery. The IMAX film about Egypt is narrated by Omar Sharif and provides context and background info to complement the "King Tut" exhibit. Here are some random shots in and around California Science Center, including a couple of views of Los Angeles Rams' brand new stadium.

Cover image for Atul Gawande's 'Being Mortal' 2018/08/11 (Saturday): Book review: Gawande, Atul, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, unabridged MP3 audiobook read by Robert Petkoff, Macmillan Audio, 2014.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Gawande maintains that dying is a very natural human condition and must be dealt with as such. Currently, very few people die at home, in a familiar setting, the exceptions consisting mostly of those who suffer major trauma and die before being taken to a hospital. Most people die, not surrounded by loved ones but by strangers, be they medical staff at a hospital or care staff at a nursing home. In many other cultures, old people remain at home and are cared for by the family. In the Indian culture, for example, older individuals are respected and their advice sought on almost everything the family does.
Dying of old age is a relatively recent phenomenon in human history. Ancient Romans had a life expectancy of 28 years, about one-third of what it is in today's advanced societies. Dying of old age is actually a misnomer, as we do not really die of old age but of various illnesses that afflict us at old age, when our body is not as capable of fighting them.
Gawande uses his own father's battle with cancer as a case study to illustrate the points he wants to make. His surgeon father developed a cancerous tumor in his upper spinal cord. Surgery, while an option, was unlikely to lead to higher quality of life and also carried direct and indirect risks. The surgeon, in consultation with physicians and family members, decided to take his time and continue without treatment for as long as he could do things that were his life's passions. The author recommends that doctors talk to and get to know their patient's preferences and priorities, prescribing medical treatments accordingly. The most aggressive treatment, the current norm, isn't necessarily the best course of action.
One of Gawande's observations is that at old age, a typical person has so many ailments that doctors should not feel the urge to treat/cure every single one of them. When a young person becomes ill, aggressive treatment to confront the illness makes sense, but for older patients, the priority should be a treatment regimen that maximizes their comfort and ability to carry out the activities they care about most.
In short, Gawande argues for a focus on well-being as opposed to health and survival. In planning treatments, physicians should rely on a frank talk with the patient. He does admit that, "For many, such talk, however carefully framed, raises the specter of a society readying itself to sacrifice its sick and aged. But what if the sick and aged are already being sacrificed&mdashvictims of our refusal to accept the inexorability of our life cycle?"
In addition to medical interventions, models of senior living must be adjusted accordingly. For example, it is unclear how much assistance elders receive in settings known as "assisted living." Gawnade finds that in many cases, staff do things for residents, instead of assisting them with doing the tasks themselves, thus compromising their independence. It simply takes less time to dress a senior, instead of helping him/her with the task.
Gawande ends his book with a brief discussion of euthanasia, criticizing the policy of making it too easy. Avoiding loss of independence, and the attendant low life quality, versus prolonging life, which may entail suffering, is a grave decision that must be made with utmost care.

2018/08/10 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Traditional Iranian breakfast spread. (1) Traditional Iranian breakfast spread.
(2) Patriarchy in the 21st Century: A Facebook friend's status indicated that he has stopped sending stuff to a woman friend (one he grew up with), because she informed him that her son did not like men contacting her!
(3) The monsters among us: Two of the major fires raging in California have been determined to have been set by arsonists, an especially heinous category of criminals.
(4) Humor: President Trump has been so successful that by his 20th month in office, we had enjoyed 94 consecutive months of jobs growth!
(5) Persian music: A large number of young and old Iranians, from all walks of life, participate in the video for this patriotic song performed by Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, with lyrics by Hooshang Ebtehaj.
(6) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Paul Manafort's trial has exposed him and a host of other Trump campaign officials, as utterly corrupt.
- Trump's tariffs lead to the shutting down of the last major TV factory in the US.
- This year, Trump's nose has grown at twice the rate of last year: Here are examples from recent rallies.
- PM Medvedev says US sanctions against Russian banks amounts to declaration of economic war.
- Smoke from California wildfires has reached New York City!
- Cartoon of the day: Khamenei's shield against attacks. [Image]
- CSUN Professor Nayereh Tohidi profiled in Cal State's system-wide publication. A very well-deserved honor!
- The DeVos Family apparently does not believe in "America First," given that its yacht flies a foreign flag.
- PETA wants the Trump boys expelled by NRA, offering the cash-strapped entity $100,000 as incentive.
- Inserting bogus, non-exploitable bugs into software can make it more secure by distracting attackers.
- Ford outfits factory workers with exoskeletons to provide assist for lifting arms when doing overhead tasks.
- Ford develops adaptive cruise control that helps improve traffic flow.
- Persian-Azeri music: A wonderful song, with Persian and Azeri lyrics, written and performed by Homay.
- The beautiful and diverse shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea captured in aerial photos.
- Wading bird on a beach in Isla Vista, roughly midway between the UCSB campus and Coal Oil Point. [Video]
(7) Google is celebrating a trailblazer's birthday (born on August 9) with a doodle: Mary G. Ross was selected by Lockheed Martin during World War II as the only woman and the only Native American on a team of 40 engineers to work on a top-secret project that later evolved into Lockheed Missiles & Space Co.
(8) Reinventing the wing: With a large number of electrically-driven propellers, adequate lift can be provided by a much smaller wing. [Source: IEEE Spectrum, August 2018] [Photo]

2018/08/08 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
(1) Persian poetry: This poem, shown in its most-popular form, is unattributed and appears in several different forms on social media. And here is a wonderful verse from Divan-e Shams, by Mowlavi (Rumi). The complete poem can be found on Ganjoor.net. Finally, here is a beautiful ghazal by Sa'adi.
(2) An early-morning walk on my final day in Windsor, Canada: Having explored the city westward and eastward from my river-side hotel over the past two days, and not wanting to walk into Detroit River on the north, I headed south along Ouellette Ave., taking detours on both sides in search of interesting sights. Some residents jokingly refer to Windsor as "South Detroit," implying that it's but one of the neighborhoods of the big American city. Compared with the previous days, there wasn't much to see (Photos). I found most downtown buildings featureless, with rows of smallish houses on residential side streets much richer in terms of variety. Almost all such houses have 4-8 steps from the street into their covered front porches (indicating that they likely have basements) and second stories, with small attic windows on top. [Video]
(3) The third and final keynote talk at MWSCAS: Continuing with the automotive theme, given the key role of the auto industry in Ontario's economy and Windsor's proximity to Detroit, Sebastian Fischmeister (U. Waterloo) spoke under the title "Challenges in System Safety and Security of Future Automative Platforms."
Following circuit-level keynote talks of the past two days, today's talk focused on system-level issues. Safety (an aspect of reliability) has long been the dominating topic for cyber-physical systems. The advent of ubiquitous connectivity has made security an equally important topic.
The move toward self-driving cars is inevitable. Some 80% of accidents are attributed to driver distraction and a 42% reduction in collisions is conservatively estimated from automation. Automotive software is so complex that some 175 new vulnerabilities are discovered per week. Not all of these apply to every car, but the exposure is significant nonetheless. The need for merging studies of safety and security is thus evident. [Photos]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- California's Mendocino Fire has become the largest in state history, as fire crew brace for more.
- Three cheers to Canada: Saudis expel ambassador and suspend trade deals over human rights criticism.
- Slamming the reinstated US sanctions against Iran, Russia vows to save the nuclear deal.
- Pilot and all 4 Iranian-American passengers killed in a small-plane crash in Santa Ana, California.
- Iran's economic woes deepen as reinstated US sanctions take hold.
- Graham Nash honors 1968 and 2018 protests with a new video for "Teach Your Children."
(5) Dan Rather's "60 Minutes" interview with Donald Trump from 1999 shows that his campaign strategy of bashing John McCain was shaped years ago.
(6) The new generation of candidates includes many who are saddled with student debt and plan to take on this problem which hinders the American Dream.
(7) Returning home to Goleta: I snapped this photo of Detroit's Renaissance Center through the windshield at the end of Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, while awaiting entry into the US. Here are some super-high clouds at 34,000 feet (10,400 m) over the Rocky Mountains, on my DTW-LAX flight route. I snapped these photos just before landing at LAX. The third photo shows the 405 Freeway.

2018/08/07 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Panoramic view of downtown Detroit and part of Windsor from Windsor's Riverside trail in the vicinity of Caesars Windsor Hotel (1) Panoramic view of downtown Detroit and part of Windsor from Windsor's Riverside trail in the vicinity of Caesars Windsor Hotel: Here is a link to the dynamic version of this panorama.
(2) My early morning walk: I walked west on Riverside drive, in the opposite direction of yesterday's stroll. The walk took me through the downtown area to Windsor-Detroit Ambassador Bridge and beyond, and it included a detour next to the bridge, where University of Windsor's campus is located (Photos). I returned via Windsor's Riverside Trail, right by the water, which included a mile-long sculpture garden. (Photos). [Video]
(3) Are the purported health benefits of turmeric, aka Indian saffron, too good to be true? Short answer: Not really! "If you have an ailment, there's a good chance that someone, somewhere, is studying whether turmeric can treat it. There are more than 15,000 manuscripts published about curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, and about 50 manuscripts added to this collection each week."
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Magnitude-6.9 Indonesian earthquake kills at least 100 at a resort island.
- Degeneration of the Republican Party under Donald Trump's leadership. [Photo]
- Sixteen major wildfires in California are being fought by more than 14,000 firefighters.
- Donald Trump's Walk-of-Fame star to be removed, per West Hollywood Council's resolution.
- Anderson Cooper reviews the web of lies we have been told about the Trump-Tower meeting with Russians.
- Kalam-polo (cabbage-rice) recipe, shared by a different Parhami Family from Shiraz, Iran!
(5) This morning's keynote lecture at MWSCAS: Dr. Eby G. Friedman (U. Rochester) spoke under the title "Power Delivery in Heterogenous Nanoscale Integrated Systems."
As the complexity of VLSI chips has reached many billions of transistors and the energy consumption per chip has grown to achieve greater functionality and speed, delivering power to chips and distributing it around have become major challenges. Power conversion and regulation resources should be designed so as to deliver high-quality power with minimum loss of energy to multiple power domains on a chip.
To achieve these goals, we need tiny voltage converters close to the loads, accurate models to characterize all the components involved, efficient algorithms for predicting the quality of power delivered, and a co-design methodology for optimally placing power supplies and decoupling capacitors. Existing tools and methodologies must be extended for dealing with emerging 3D integrated circuits. [Photos]
(6) Tonight, we had the MWSCAS's formal banquet, featuring an exquisite meal and live music by a band with a global repertoire [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]. Tomorrow, there will be an awards luncheon, which I may have to miss to make it to my return flight out of Detroit.
(7) Final thought for the day: "I just want someone to love and accept me for who I pretend to be on the Internet." ~ Anonymous

2018/08/06 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Map of Europe, with recent high temperatures (1) Europe's record heat wave: Temperatures in Celsius or degrees Centigrade. [45*C = 113*F]
(2) Venezuelan President survives assassination attempt by explosives-carrying drones: This may be the first political assassination attempt using drones. I hope the US was not involved, given that Trump had apparently considered a military invasion there.
(3) Trump is about to fall, which is satisfying: Equally satisfying is the fact that numerous criminals, parasites, and apologists in his White House will fall with him!
(4) TEDx talks by Iranian women: Getting involved in discussion on a Facebook post reminded me of this Persian talk by Lili Golestan, who achieved what she wanted through positivism and hard work. A highly effective and informative English talk by Azadeh Moaveni, entitled "Iran from a Different Perspective."
(5) Traveling from Burlington to Windsor in Canada, with a stop-over in Waterloo, on Sunday 8/05: The Midwest Symposium on Circuits and Systems began at Caesars Windsor Hotel (on the shore of Detroit River, facing downtown Detroit on the other side) with a welcoming reception last evening.
En route to Windsor, I spent 3 hours with my former colleague and long-time friend, Emeritus Professor Farhad Mavaddat. We had coffee and lunch and drove through the University of Waterloo Campus, which has changed a lot since I spent a sabbatical year there 32 years ago. We also went to visit the apartment building where my family used to live when my two sons were a toddler and an infant. Of course, they don't remember a thing about their stay here and the snowsuits they used to wear in winter! These photos show the apartment building at the intersection of Westmount Road and Brybeck Crescent. [Video]
(6) My early morning stroll in Windsor on Monday 8/06: After photographing the Caesar Windsor Hotel from inside and outside (Photos), I began walking eastward on Riverside Dr., turning right on Gladstone Ave. toward the Olde Walkerville Neighborhood. I returned along Wyandotte St., completing the 4-mile loop on McDougall Ave. There wasn't much auto or pedestrian traffic, given that today is a holiday in Canada. These photos show a mosque and a church, the historic Walkerville Theater, an Islamic school across the street from a gentlemen's club, and various businesses (some boarded up). [Video]
(7) Opening session of MWSCAS and its first Keynote address, delivered by Yervant Zorian, Synopsis Fellow and Chief Architect, under the title "Automotive Electronics Today: Quality, Safety, & Security."
The value in automotive products is shifting from mechanical parts to electronics and software. A typical modern car now incorporates some 100 million lines of code (slated to triple by 2025) and it generates 4 TB of data per day from its ~6 cameras and many sensors. Automotive electronics presents numerous challenges by its need for higher-quality IP components and by the requirements of testing, both initially and in operation. Self-driving cars, moving from the current hands-off mode to eyes-off and, eventually, driver-off, provide one the most important forces driving AI research, whose methods are about to surpass the capabilities of human drivers. Finally, reliable and secure operation of hardware and software components have to be ensured through new research and development initiatives.
(8) Honoring Graham Jullien and William Miller (at the podium in this photo, with Jullien right behind him): The photo was taken at today's luncheon. This afternoon, I presented an invited lecture at a special conference session convened in their honor. [See item 298 in my List of Publications]
[Here are a few sights from MWSCAS, including photos of a sample lecture, a sample poster, and a small dinner for the conference steering committee members and their guests.]

2018/08/05 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The old Radio Kermanshah building. (Photo by: Abdi Hoghoghi) US-Canada border at Niagara Falls US-Canada border between Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario (1) Some interesting images: [Left] The old Radio Kermanshah building in the Kurdistan Province, Iran. (Photo by: Abdi Hoghoghi) [Center & Right] Our weirdly-shaped northern border: These Google Maps satellite images show that you have to move northward across Niagara Falls to get from Canada to its southern neighbor! Ditto for going from Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit, Michigan, across Detroit River.
(2) A representative from Iran's Mazandaran Province presents a comprehensive list of hardships and grievances that have led to street protests. [Speech in Persian]
(3) An advance in computing: Texas teenager finds an exponentially faster conventional algorithm for recommender systems that runs in polylogarithmic time, rather than exponential time, thus erasing the advantage of quantum computing for this particular problem. Polylogarithmic time means that the running time is a polynomial in the logarithm of the problem size n.
(4) Everybody's dumb: "Lebron (sic) James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn't easy to do. I like Mike!" ~ Donald Trump tweet
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Michael Jordan and a host of other athletes defend LaBron James, after Trump insulted his intelligence.
- This got to hurt DJT: Melania Trump has praised LaBron James and his work on behalf of at-risk children.
- Talk about luxury aircraft: The Airlander 10 outdoes them all!
- Finger lime: This squeezable citrus fruit looks wonderful!
- Living art (artist and location unknown). [Video]
- Instrumental music: Little violinist plays "Despacito," with skill and passion. [Video]
(6) A fable: A wheat thief was arrested and paraded through town on a donkey, while people laughed and cheered. The accompanying officer asked the thief how he was doing. "Great," he replied, "I ate the wheat, I am getting a free ride, and I have made the people happy!" [This is the story of Iran's Islamic regime: Its officials have plundered the people's money, they are riding imported luxury cars, and people are busy making jokes about them and laughing out loud!] [The original Facebook post, in Persian]
(7) Today in Burlington, Ontario, Canada: I began the day at Burlington's Village Square Market, featuring arts, crafts, and health products, along with music and dance performances. The highly-rated Rayhoon Persian Eatery can be seen in the background of this video. I then explored the downtown area and strolled along the fabulous Waterfront Trail, going through and way beyond Spencer Smith Park, providing me with about 6 miles of walking [Photos]. When I returned to Village Square just before noon to eat lunch at Rayhoon, an excellent trio, with a wonderful female vocalist, was performing pop and rock classics [Video 1] [Video 2]. As I sat at a table in Rayhoon's patio, a pair of belly dancers entertained the now sizable crowd at the market [Video].
In the scorching mid-afternoon, I took refuge in Mapleview Mall to cool off, read, have coffee, and post videos/photos. Businesses throughout the town had placed water bowls on the sidewalks for our 4-legged friends, and water fountains also had special accommodations for them. Several of the high-rises in Burlington house retirement communities; a waterfront development advertises luxury condos. [Useful info, seen on a waterfront park sign: "One Canada goose can poop up to 60 times per day." You have been warned!]

2018/08/04 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Panoramic view of the Niagara Falls (1) My adventurs in Canada so far: I arrived in Canada, via Detroit, early morning on Thursday 8/02. I spent Thursday afternoon with my former colleague and long-time friend, Emeritus Professor Farhad Mavaddat. Before that, we had lunch in Waterloo's Proof Restaurant with our common friend Professor Ladan Tahvildari, who has just been promoted to full professor at Waterloo and treated us in way of celebration!
I began Friday 8/03 with a 3-mile stroll through Niagara on the Lake. This historical small town is a bit like Carmel, California, featuring boutiques, galleries, novelty/gift shops, and restaurants. Most of all, it's filled with flowers! On this very hot day, city workers were roaming the streets, with their water trucks and hoses, tending to the plants. [Photos]
From Niagara on the Lake, I took the Niagara Parkway southward to Niagara Falls. The scenic road, winding alongside Niagara River, that flows northward from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario and forms the Falls along the way, is lined with wineries and orchards, featuring fresh-fruit stands. [Photos]
At the Falls, the mist from raging water had a welcome cooling effect on a hot and humid day, as I walked for 3-4 miles between the various parts of the town and several viewing areas. It was more than three decades ago when I had last visited the Falls, and much has changed in the interim. [Photos] [Dynamic panorama]
Despite much fun and adventure, I did miss Santa Barbara's Fiesta 2018, August 1-5, while traveling.
(2) It boggles my mind how Trump gets people living paycheck-to-paycheck cheer him on when he announces a new tax-cut plan for the super-rich!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Wife of decorated US marine is deported to Mexico: Zero tolerance or zero compassion?
- This year, Trump's nose has grown at twice the rate of last year: Here are examples from recent rallies.
- Facing competition from EVs, gasoline engines are being improved significantly, and Mazda leads the way.
- Paper just published in PNAS details genetically-modified rice that neutralizes HIV.
- Canadian sunflower farm is closed to visitors, after selfie-takers damaged the crop and caused traffic jams.
- Cartoon of the day: "Wait until one of them says, 'It's so peaceful out here.'" [Image]
(4) On 8-dimensional numbers: A day after I visited two University of Waterloo colleagues, I encountered this Wired story about how Cohl Furey, a UoW grad student in 2014, suggested a mathematical theory to connect some forces of nature together!
Real numbers are cornerstones of physics. Complex numbers (2D numbers or pairs of reals) provide the math of quantum mechanics. Suitably paired complex numbers form 4D numbers or quaternions, which underlie Einstein's special theory of relativity. Pairs of quaternions make octonions, and that's the end of the line for kinds of numbers that can be added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided, the so-called "division algebras."
Since 2014, Furey has made notable progress in developing her theory, advancing a promising 1973 suggestion about the link between octonions and strong & electromagnetic forces that had been abandoned. One challenge in working with octonions is that their math isn't associative. We lose the ordering property when we go from reals to complex numbers and commutativity in the next transition to quaternions, but associativity remains for the latter numbers.

2018/08/02 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Logical reasoning puzzle involving fewer than 30 people standing in a circle (1) A math puzzle from WSJ: A group of fewer than 30 people are standing in a circle, each one holding a piece of cardboard with a number written on it. They are instructed to note the numbers held by the persons standing immediately to the right and left and to announce the averages. The announced averages turn out to be 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on, going in order around the circle. How many people were in the circle if one person's number was 10 times her announced average?
(2) And another WSJ puzzle: Using the numeral 2 twice, 6 once, and any number of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, decimal-point, and parentheses symbols, form a math expression that equals 29.
(3) The "negative afterimage" effect: Stare at the dot on the woman's nose in this negative image for 15 seconds, then divert your gaze to the blank part of the image to see the effect. If you blink your eyes quickly after diverting your gaze, the afterimage will last longer.
(4) The magic of satellite imagery: I am a big fan of satellite and aerial photos, because they provide perspectives on geography not available from other forms of imagery. These satellite images show the Caucasus (Ghafghaz) mountain range, stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea, and the Alborz Mountain range in Iran's Guilan province. In the latter image, you can see Sefid Rood extending from the Sefid Rood Dam reservoir to the Caspian Sea, and the city of Rasht just below the river, near the center of the lush greenery that is characteristic of the Caspian coast.
(5) Women's-rights activist Masih Alinejad is disowned by her sister on Iran's state TV. Stalin would have been proud of the Islamic Republic! One commentator wrote that Alinejad may have been disowned by a sister, but she has gained many other sisters because of her courageous campaign against mandatory hijab laws.
(6) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- In somewhat of a surprise, Trump taps an extreme-weather researcher to head the WH science office.
- DJT: AG "should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further."
- Humor: Russia, if you are listening, I really really like to get re-elected in 2020! Please?
- Brains of 20 different animals. [Image]
- Persian poetry: A couple of verses from a beautiful Anvari poem. Link to all of Anvari's ghazals.
(7) Caucher Birkar, an Iranian Kurdish refugee working at UK's University of Cambridge, is one of the four recipients of this year's Fields Medal, the most prestigious prize in mathematics (sometimes characterized as math's Nobel Prize). The other three recipients are Alessio Figalli, Peter Scholze, and Akshay Venkatesh.

2018/08/01 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Summer flowers 6 Summer flowers 2 Summer flowers 3 Summer flowers 5 Summer flowers 1 Summer flowers 4 (1) Despite super-hot weather and very dry conditions in Goleta over the past few weeks, these flowers, photographed on Monday, July 30, 2018, as I walked home from UCSB, seem to be in rather good shape!
(2) Nature photography: These photos capture rare clear views of Santa Barbara Channel Islands from UCSB West Campus and Coal Oil Point beaches. And here is a view of the Pacific Ocean, looking southeast from the bluffs at UCSB West Campus beach.
(3) Virgin Galactic has chosen Grottaglie, Italy, to host its space-tourism launches, because of a long runway, uneventful weather, and record as a test-bed for remotely-piloted aircraft.
(4) Evolution of Trump's defense strategy in the Russia probe:
- There's no proof Russia interfered in our election.
- Okay, it did, but no one on Trump's team knew about it.
- Okay, it was just the coffee boys, but Trump himself was not involved.
- Okay, Trump colluded with Russia, but collusion isn't a crime.
- Okay, it's a crime, but an itsy-bitsy crime.
- Since when is crime something to be investigated?
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Heroes: Forty hospital employees, who lost their own homes in the Carr Fire, are helping others cope.
- Surprise, surprise! North Korea is working on new missiles, according to US intelligence agencies.
- Russia liquidates almost all (84%) of its holdings in US Treasury securities.
- Summits are fun: Donald Trump is desperately looking for other dictators with whom to have summits.
- Pedestrian bridge in Vietnam is seemingly held up in the sky by a giant hand.
- NASA's Parker Solar Probe will reveal how the sun sends out plumes of energetic particles.
- Facebook shuts down 30+ fake pages for coordinated attempt to sway public opinion before the midterms.
- Amazon is in the fight of its life against dirty tricks, such as fake reviews and algorithm cheats. [WSJ Image]

2018/07/31 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cultural contrast: Iranian coffee-table cover, along with Chinese rug Different version of a classic optical illusion: Is the cat going up or down the stairs? Teasing master painters (1) Interesting images: [Left] Cultural contrast: Iranian coffee-table cover and Chinese rug. [Center] Different version of a classic optical illusion: Is the cat going up or down the stairs? [Right] Teasing master painters!
(2) US politics: Independent "never-Hillary" voters, of whom 33% voted for Trump (23% voted for third-party candidates and 37% didn't vote), are split evenly 51/49 in disapproving/approving of the job Trump is doing.
(3) On US-Israel relations: "Obama's administration was not the first to have abstained or supported UN resolutions critical of Israel ... George W. Bush's allowed 6 such resolutions to pass, George H. W. Bush's allowed 9, and Ronald Reagan's allowed 21." ~ James L. Gelvin, The New Middle East, a book I will review soon
(4) My college buddies in Iran (Fanni class of 1968) are starting an "assistance fund" and, as a first act of kindness, have made charity donations in lieu of sending flowers to the memorial gathering for our departed classmate Nasser Mohajerani. Thanks for organizing and acting quickly and compassionately in this matter!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Six dead, 7 missing, in the rapidly-spreading Shasta-County fire in Northern California.
- Hundreds of hikers, including many tourists, trapped on volcano following Indonesia's devastating quake.
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg plans to serve on the US Supreme Court for at least another 5 years.
- "Die Hard," the mother of all modern action films, turns 30.
- Smirnoff's humorous ad: Made in America, but we'd be happy to talk about our ties to Russia under oath.
- New on the menu: Sushi, Iranian style! [Photo]
- Incredible photos: Winners and honorable-mentions in the drone photography awards.
- Persian music: "Shadi" ("Joy"), featuring Arash Fouladvand and Niaz Nawab, based on a poem by Rumi.
(6) Biggest winners from Trump tax cuts are CEOs: They have received major pay hikes, while the worth of their owned/optioned stocks has risen sharply due to companies using tax-cut windfalls for stock buy-backs.
(7) After Trump saying "there was no collusion" hundreds of times, his legal team is now moving the goal-post by asserting that "collusion isn't a crime"!
(8) Another tax cut: The Trump administration is considering a unilateral (bypassing the Congress) tax cut for the wealthy. If implemented, capital gains will be taxed based on inflation-adjusted values. "Currently, capital gains taxes are determined by subtracting the original price of an asset from the price at which it was sold and taxing the difference, usually at 20 percent. If a high earner spent $100,000 on stock in 1980, then sold it for $1 million today, she would owe taxes on $900,000. But if her original purchase price was adjusted for inflation, it would be about $300,000, reducing her taxable 'gain' to $700,000. That would save the investor $40,000."

2018/07/29 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for Richard Dawkins' 'Science in the Soul' (1) Book review: Dawkins, Richard, Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Lalla Ward, and Gillian Somerscales, Random House Audio, 2017.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book brings together 42 essays and other writings of ethologist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, spanning three decades, all sharing the author's characteristic clarity, wit, and focus on the primacy of nature. Dawkins calls for using reason and empirical data over gut feeling (which may be influenced by superstition and blind prejudices) in all of our sociopolitical decisions. Science in the Soul really pertains to the role of science in ethical decision-making.
Dawkins views it as inexcusable that in the age of electronic communication, which puts scientific findings at everyone's fingertips, so many people in high places still question the facts of evolution and climate change. Why has the world grown so hostile to facts? Wrapped up in our prejudices, many of us cannot step back and take a broad look at the entire collection of prejudices that exist in the world. About the myriad of incompatible gods and religious faiths, Dawkins has said: "We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."
I enjoyed listening to this audiobook, which provides much food for thought. Several chapters are supplied with afterwords containing updates or thoughts on how he could have written them better. These afterwords make the collection more useful, even for those who are already familiar with Dawkins' ideas. The book has my highest recommendation.
(2) A drug company has bought a $300 million stake in the genetic testing company 23andMe, giving it access to a trove of genetic data to develop new drugs and raising serious consumer privacy concerns.
(3) RIP: Sad to report that a few days after our 50th-anniversary reunion in Yerevan, Armenia, our classmate Nasser Mohajerani, one of Daneshkadeh-ye Fanni's 1968 graduates who could not attend the reunion due to illness, has passed away. He was an extraordinary engineer who played a key role in the advancement of heavy industries in the Azerbaijan province. [Announcements]
A verse by Sa'adi (4) Persian poetry: A verse by Sa'adi, quoted by Homa Sarshar in her TED-like talk "Insiders and Outsiders" about prejudice and violation of minority rights. [The full poem on ganjoor.net]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- "Trump 2020" banners are made in China (and Trump golf courses are maintained by foreign workers).
- Trump rants about Michael Cohen, 'Fake News,' and border security in Sunday morning tweetstorm.
- Before-and-after photos show the scope of disaster in northern California.
- Earthquake near Kermanshah, Iran, reported, with magnitude 4.3 (5.0 per some reports). [Map]
- This misogynist and apologist for violence against women is a university professor in Iran! [Lecture video]
- Quote of the day: "Silence is of the gods; only monkeys chatter." ~ American comedian Buster Keaton

2018/07/27 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Flyers for the two December 2017 lectures (1) Podcasts of my lectures entitled "Computers and Challenges of Writing in Persian," delivered on November 19 and 20, 2017, as part of UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran, are now available. I have also included below a link to the slides (applicable to both versions) for those who want to pursue the lectures. A project of mine this summer is putting together written versions of these lectures for broader dissemination. Look for the resulting papers on my publications page later this year.
Lecture in Persian (73-minute audio file)
Lecture in English (81-minute audio file):
Lecture slides: PDF (no animation); PowerPoint
(2) Robot designers learn from rats for navigation: Being able to navigate without or with limited visual cues is a major advantage, as it allows navigation is darkness. Rats do it via a mechanism that keeps track of their own movements [Image]. "Robots have the advantage of being able to sense their own motion far more accurately than an animal, and to take advantage of a wide range of accurate motion sensors, whereas a rat may make less-reliable estimates of how far and in which direction its legs have moved it." [Reference: Edwards, Chris, "Animals Teach Robots to Find Their Way," CACM, Vol. 61, No. 8, pp. 14-16, August 2018.]
(3) One-liners: Brief Trump news, Trumpisms, and related memes/humor.
- Why it is necessary to fact-check Donald Trump: Comprehensive interview with Daniel Dale.
- "He told me I should sue the E.U.—not go into negotiations." ~ Theresa May, on Donald Trump
- Quote of the day: Barack Obama, in his July 17 Nelson Mandela Lecture. [Image from Time magazine]
- Putin not only got Trump elected but is helping him undermine Mueller. [Time magazine]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A debate regarding Iran's and Israel's nuclear programs and the recently-annulled nuclear deal.
- After the closure of two Blockbuster stores in Alaska, only one location, in Bend, Oregon, is left in the US.
- On the day when Twitter purged fake accounts, Katy Perry lost nearly 3 million followers!
- Currently making $231,000 per minute, Jeff Bezos became world's richest person on July 16, 2018.
- Smoke and poor air quality are back in Goleta, from a small Fairview-area fire that was put out quickly.
- Updating the gun debate: Registration and other controls may become infeasible with 3D-printed guns.
- The duck boat in fatal Missouri sinking designed by businessman with no engineering training.
- US Counterintelligence and Security Center report on stealing trade secrets blames China, Russia, Iran.
(5) [Final thought for the day] Anger management: Here's what to do if someone makes you angry.
If the person is junior to you ... count to 10 and then talk.   If the person is equal to you ... count to 30.
If the person is senior to you ... count to 50.   If the person is your wife ... keep on counting, don't talk.

2018/07/26 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Persian calligraphy 'Ey Doost Maraa Beh Khaater Aavar' (1) Persian poetry: When we graduated from Tehran University's College of Engineering in 1968, a couple of friends collected our photos and produced an album with the title "Ey Doost Maraa Beh Khaater Aavar" ("My Friend, Remember Me"). I discovered during our Yerevan reunion trip that the title came from this poem by Malek-ol-Shoa'raa-ye Bahaar. Enjoy!
(2) I don't think Trump has read 1984: He is just reinventing all of George Orwell's ideas! "The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command."
Here is Trump's 2018 version: "Just remember, what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening."
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- New evidence of liquid water on Mars: The vast, stable supply is a mile under the ice.
- On how old ideas die, making way for new ones: "Science advances one funeral at a time." ~ Max Planck
- Having lost hope on toppling the mullahs, some Iranians are looking for miracles from imam-zadeh Trump.
- Cartoon of the day: Nobody loves obeying the law more than I do! [Image from: The New Yorker]
- Scandals take a toll: Facebook's 20% drop in market value is the largest in US history.
- An amazing feat: A soccer goal, scored from 80 yards out!
- Persian satire: Mr. Haloo pokes fun at Rouhani's warning to Trump that he shouldn't play with the lion's tail.
(4) Santa Barbara's downtown in crisis: I would have thought that, unlike downtowns in other cities, the beautiful business district on our State Street is immune to an economic downturn, given the steady flow of tourists through the area. This SB Independent report paints a different picture. It indicates that the vacancy rate of commercial properties has risen to around 15%, as businesses continue to move out.
(5) Iran admits to hostage-taking: An Iranian judge has confirmed that Iranian-British prisoner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe won't be released until the UK settles a long-standing debt with Iran.
(6) Insiders and outsiders: In this 20-minute TED-style talk (in Persian), journalist/author Homa Sarshar discusses the problems she has faced as a Jewish Iranian woman, perpetrated not just by Islamic officials in Iran but also by fellow Iranians, including some intellectuals, back home and in exile.

2018/07/25 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
One of the displays at Isfahan Music Museum (1) Isfahan Music Museum: I learned about this central Iranian museum, which is often described as a labor of love by two private collectors (Mehrdad Jeihooni and Shahriar Shokrani), from a friend during our recent reunion in Yerevan. So, I looked it up and decided to share the info here. The instruments on display include the kamancheh, thought to be the ancestor of the modern violin, and the tar, a precursor of the guitar. The museum has a nice Web site, which includes a virtual tour.
(2) Persian poetry: Sa'adi's musings on the importance of joy and dancing is apt advice to the Islamic regime in Iran, which harshly punishes any public display of joy. Here is the full poem on ganjoor.net.
(3) The part of joint Trump-Putin press conference in which Putin admitted to favoring Trump during the 2016 US election is mysteriously missing from the transcripts issued by the White House!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hundreds missing after the collapse of a hydro-power dam in Laos.
- Rocket attacks and other explosions in Kabul, Afghanistan, cause multiple casualties.
- Scores dead in Greece from a fast-moving wildfire that trapped them, leaving no escape path.
- From the horse's mouth: Putin admits he wanted Trump to win and that he directed his people to help.
- Someone who cares about human rights in Iran would not cozy up to brutal dictators such as Putin, Kim, ...
- Persian poetry: A lovely verse from Sa'adi about love teaching him poetry.
- US no longer tops in per-capita military spending and China isn't in the top 50: Look to the Middle East!
- China, Russia, and the US are all building centers for AI applications in warfare.
- New evidence of liquid water on Mars: The vast, stable supply is a mile under the ice.
- Physicist Jess Wade wants female scientists to be noticed: So, she wrote 270 Wikipedia profiles.
(5) Book talk, with Backpacker magazine editor Annette McGivney: Talking at Santa Barbara's Public Library (central branch, 6:30 PM) about her new book, Pure Land: A True Story of Three Lives, Three Cultures, and Heaven on Earth (Aquarius Press, 2017), McGivney described her quest to investigate the most brutal murder in the history of Grand Canyon, leading to a most unusual combination of nature and murder-mystery writing. The three lives/cultures mentioned in the title are those of Japanese tourist Tomomi Hanamure, a nature enthusiast and hiker who was brutally murdered during one of her trips to the US, an abused Native-American boy who committed the murder, and McGivney who tried to make sense of the events and weave them into a story of healing and understanding.
(6) Before and after the book talk above: Walking from downtown to Stearns Wharf and back, I noticed that the tourist season is in full swing in Santa Barbara. Stearns Wharf and the restaurants on and around it teemed with visitors, most with kids in tow. This photo shows that meanness has invaded even the language of coin-toss games on the beach next to Stearns Wharf! As I left the Santa Barbara Public Library's Faulkner Gallery, I passed by the SB Courthouse and its Sunken Garden, where I snapped these photos of the sky, building, and a man playing his electric guitar. Here's a video of the man.

2018/07/23 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for Paolo Coelho's 'The Alchemist' (1) Book review: Coelho, Paolo, The Alchemist, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Jeremy Irons, HarperAudio, 2005.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I had wanted to read this book for a long time, given the broad following it has garnered around the world and numerous quotes and nuggets of wisdom from it floating in cyberspace. Here is an example: "And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." Going in with such high expectations, I was rather disappointed, but the voice of Jeremy Irons in the audiobook version somewhat saved the day for me.
Coelho tells the mythical story of a young Andalusian shepherd who "follows his heart," which tells him to sell his flock and travel to Egypt in search of worldly treasures. As the shepherd travels across northern Africa, he becomes conflicted between settling for romantic love and pursuing his "personal legend."
The young traveler is advised by various individuals that the events in his life are really omens to be carefully considered and "read," in order to determine his future actions, as he moves towards his destiny. One of these individuals is the alchemist of the book's title, an old man who has learned the ways of the world and is at peace with his place in life and the universe.
Coelho weaves a tale filled with self-empowering advice and the need to do what one needs to do, even in the face of fear. However, the advice is too simple-minded and certainly not worthy of the extensive following and the myriad of quotes that it has garnered. Judging by nearly 12,000 Amazon reviews (72% fawning with 5 stars, but 15% giving it 1-3 stars), there are other skeptics about the significance of this book.
Viewed as a fable, the book's uncomplicated prose can be forgiven. However, that same lack of sophistication makes the book far from a literary masterpiece. And the self-help advice part of the book is available in much better form elsewhere.
(2) One-liners: Brief Trump news, Trumpisms, and related memes/humor.
- Citing threats to curtail oil exports, Iran's President Rouhani warns Trump not to play with the lion's tail.
- Trump responds to Rouhani's "don't play with the lion's tail" remark by threatening historic consequences.
- Donald Trump sure yells a lot: Here are some photographic examples.
- After reluctantly admitting that Russia interfered in US election, Trump flip-flops and calls it "a big hoax."
- GOP Senate candidate gets comedic, produces a big laugh: He lauds Trump for standing up to Russia!
(3) One-liners: Brief science, technology, and education news from around the world.
- Univ. of Alabama scientists discover that turning off a mutation reverses wrinkles and hair loss in mice.
- California governor calls for launch of an on-line community college for workers' skills improvement.
- Americans hold on to their smartphones for an average of 32 months.
- Electrical contact to semiconductor molecules demonstrated by Univ. of Basel and IBM Reasearch, Zurich.
- University of Waterloo researchers achieve liquid animation so realistic you can almost taste the honey!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Gunman and one victim dead, 13 injured, in Toronto mass shooting.
- Extreme conditions: Freak weather hits Japan, China, the US and other parts on the world.
- Pronounced "miray-towa" and "soh-may-tow," mascots for Japan's 2022 Olympics and Parolympics named.
- Positive news amid global chaos: Officer gives homeless man a shave to help him in his job quest.
- After the success of an experimental program, New Zealand firm to make its 4-day work-week permanent.

2018/07/21 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Small map of Armenia (1) Reflections on Armenia and its capital city of Yerevan: Having just returned from a week-long trip to Yerevan and nearby locales, for a get-together with my college buddies to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our graduation from Tehran University's College of Engineering, I'd like to share with you some of my observations.
Republic of Armenia is a relatively poor, but very proud country. It was established in 860 BCE and was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion, around the year 301 CE. The ancient Armenian kingdom was split between the Byzantine and Sasanian Empires in the early 5th century.
Erevan or Yerevan, with an elevation of about 1000 m, is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world. After World War I, Yerevan became the capital of the First Republic of Armenia, as thousands of survivors of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire arrived in the area.
A most notable feature of Yerevan is the presence of numerous drinking fountains with ice-cold water (bearing no chemicals) in parks and other public places. Yerevan, with a population of around 1 million (1/3 of Armenia's total), is one of the safest cities in the world, and it has very clean air. It is one of the oldest capitals in the world, beating Rome by 29 years.
One sees many Iranian tourists on the streets of Yerevan. Reasons include Yerevan's proximity to Iran, the fact that Iranians need no visa to travel to Armenia, and the very reasonable prices for food and accommodations. As I walked in Yerevan, I came across a mosque that has been refurbished by the Islamic Republic of Iran and a special currency exchange store for Iranian travelers.
(2) Curiosity is good, but keep it in check: Seven-time "Jeopardy!" winner was put on probation by the college where she teaches for inappropriately logging into the email accounts of fellow professors, administrators, and students.
(3) Brief Trump news, Trumpisms, and related memes/humor.
- Whose interests is Trump serving? This 4-minute video answers the question in 10 alarming points.
- The artist who morphed Trump's and Putin's faces for a Time magazine cover image explains her work.
- Russia had access to mass of data collected from Facebook by Cambridge Analytica.
- Humor: Facebook's friendship video for Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
- Meme of the day: We actually meant Trump shouldn't be President! [Image]
- The Borowitz Report (humor): "Kim Jong Un upset to learn that Trump is seeing other dictators."
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of potential interest.
- At least 13 dead, with 4 still missing, as tourist boat capsizes on a lake in Missouri.
- A dozen more moons of Jupiter discovered, raising the total number to 79.
- A surreal freeway interchange network in China. [Video]
- From E&T magazine 7/2018: "A truly inclusive profession doesn't treat women as a distinct type of worker."
- Full text of the Nelson Mandela Lecture, delivered by former-president Barack Obama on July 17, 2018.
- California Supreme Court nixes measure to split California into three states from the November ballot.
- Santa Barbara joins an expanding list of cities that have outlawed plastic drinking straws.
- A group of young Iranian men travel to provide free haircuts to underprivileged communities.
- Persian poetry: Satire by Hadi Khorsandi. (Our lost Joseph is an asylee in Germany!)
- Quote: "If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable." ~ Louis D. Brandeis

2018/07/19 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
(1) My last day in Yerevan (Wednesday 7/18): After saying good-bye to departing friends at the end of a memorable reunion in Yerevan, Armenia, and seeing them off, I spent some time exploring the city, before heading to visit Dr. Samvel K. Shoukourian (Scientific Leader of YSU's IT Educational and Research Center, Member of Armenia's National Academy of Sciences, and Senior Manager of Embedded Test and Repair Solutions Group at Synopsis Armenia) at Yerevan State University. Our visit was followed by a late lunch at Lavash Restaurant near the Opera House.
Founded in 1919, YSU (aka University of Yerevan) is the oldest continuously-operating public university in Armenia. Following the break-up of the former Soviet Inion, universities, like many other institutions in Armenia, went through difficulties arising from dearth of resources and leadership. Problems still persist, and they are intensified by sociopolitical conflicts in the region. Relations with Russia and Iran are apparently good, but those countries have their own internal challenges.
Dr. Shoukourian provided details of a number of IT programs at YSU, including a joint master's-degree program with University of Rostock (Germany, Prof. Djamshid Tavangarian), in which students study for three semesters at YSU and one semester at Rostock. YSU's IT programs are sponsored by Synopsis, Mentor Graphics (another major tech presence in Armenia), and other industrial partners, which provide mentorships and paid internships. A joint program with San Jose State University covering data analytics is under development.
Formally established in 2007, with roots going back to 2000, the Armenian Virtual College is another major presence in Armenia's higher education scene. Offering instruction in several regional and global languages, AVC uses software platforms that were developed by Dr. Shoukourian.
Dr. Shoukourian and I agreed to look into possible collaborations in the form of joint research and educational programs based on our overlapping and complementary interests.
(2) Heading home: After a final evening stroll in Yerevan on Wednesday and getting some rest, I left my hotel for the airport very early on Thursday 7/19. With the exception of the issue raised in the following blog post, the trip back was rather uneventful. There was certainly no drama resulting from missing a flight!
(3) Manspreading and misplaced nationalism: The first of these photos shows the knee of a Russian man which (like his elbow) was continuously in my space during the long Moscow-LAX Aeroflot flight. This type of not caring for others and encroaching on their personal space is a prominent symptom of, and one of the key reasons for, backwardness in Third-World countries. It affects women to a larger degree than men, and it causes more discomfort for them because of its sexual connotations.
As required of passengers entering the US, I was asked to fill out a US Customs and Border Protection form, which was inexplicably in Russian. When I inquired what to do, a flight attendant told me that I can find the English version on page so-and-so of the Aeroflot Magazine. It was printed with such small font, however, that I had to take a photo of it and enlarge the resulting image for reading, taking care to enter each answer in the correct space of the Russian form. How difficult is it for Aeroflot to stock the original English version of the form for the many non-Russians who enter the US on their planes?
(4) Persian poetry: As I headed home on Thursday morning, I dedicated these verses about love and friendship to all the friends whose companionship in Yerevan over the last few days was energy-inducing and refreshing. Until we meet again! On the flight from Moscow to Los Angeles, I wrote a poem of my own to commemorate the Yerevan meeting with 16 classmates, 2 contemporaries from the civil engineering major, 9 wives, and 2 other family members.

2018/07/17 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Panoramic view of the hilltop Black Church and Sevan Lake (1) Panoramic view of the hilltop Black Church and Sevan Lake: The lake, known for the second-highest altitude in the world at 2800 meters, and the town of Sevan take their names from the 9th-Century church [Dynamic panorama]. And here is a view of Yerevan's Republic Square [Dynamic panorama].
(2) Points of interest in Armenia, visited over the past couple of days:
The memorial monument to the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan (7/16) [Photos].
Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan (7/16) [Photos].
Mother-of-Armenia monument in Yerevan (7/16) [Photos].
The 1000-Steps Public Square is a source of pride and a center for arts in Yerevan (7/16) [Photos].
Evening walk from our hotel to Yerevan's Republic Square and beyond, to the Opera House (7/16) [Photos].
Enjoying music with old-time friends at one of the open-air cafes adjoining Yerevan's Opera House [Video].
Valley of Flowers achieved status when the Soviet Olympics team trained there before Mexico games [Photos].
The 9th-Century Black Church, near Sevan, Armenia [Photos] [Video, singing on the bus].
(3) Meals: We had breakfast at the hotel, as usual. Here are photos and two videos of our lunch on Monday 7/16 [Photos] [Video 1] [Video 2]. Like Sunday night, we gathered on Monday night 7/16 for a late dinner and entertainment at a friend's hotel suite. On Tuesday, we had lunch on the shore of Sevan Lake [Photos]. Tuesday's dinner was the last one for us as a group [Video 1] [Video 2]. Here are some group musical performances late at night [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3] ["Maraa Beboos"] ["Ey Iran"] [Video 6].
(4) Reunion activites and events: Unveiling of the banner that commemorates our 50th-anniversary reunion in Yerevan, Armenia. In front of Hotel Metropol, after retuning from Tuesday's touring and before going out for our last dinner as a group [Photos]. After Tuesday's dinner, we gathered in the hotel lobby to sign the reunion banner and give appreciations [Photos] [Video 1] [Video 2].
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of potential interest.
- Trump: "Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness ..."
- One more witch: This one, investigated by the US Justice Dept., was actually arrested, not just indicted.
- MGM sues 1000 victims of the Vegas mass shooting in a preventive measure to dismiss/stop lawsuits.
- As usual, the press is being blamed for Trump's wreck of a performance at the Helsinki summit with Putin.
- Cartoon of the day: What Trump did in Helsinki left Russians celebrating and Americans reeling. [Image]
- Diamonds aren't rare at all: At 10^15 tons, they are 1000 times more common than previously thought.
- Gigantic 11-million-ton iceberg threatens to inundate tiny Greenland village with tsunami. [Photo]

2018/07/15 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Soccer World Cup 2018: Completed bracket (1) Getting to Yerevan and my first day there: My trip began Friday morning with a ride on Santa Barbara Airbus (which took the PCH to avoid congestion on 101 and 405), followed by a 12-hour Aeroflot flight to Moscow. Due to inattention to announcements in a very busy and chaotic airport, I missed my connecting flight to Yerevan and ended up paying a very steep panalty to purchase a new ticket (the new ticket cost a tad more than the entire LAX-Yerevan round-trip ticket I had purchased for the trip, and I received very poor service from Aeroflot personnel in trying to arrange another flight). While waiting an extra 7 hours at Moscow Airport, I watched Belgium beat England 2-0 in an exciting 3rd-place World Cup match. Very tired after a super-long day, I arrived at and settled in my spacious room in Hotel Metropol early Sunday morning. In the evening of my first day in Yerevan, a number of friends and I had a World Cup watching party at our hotel's outdoors sports bar. In a fast-moving and somewhat dirty match, France got some help from Croatia (an own goal and a PK) to beat it 4-2. The subscript after a team's abbreviation in the chart above is its 2017 FIFA world ranking.
(2) Sightseeing in Yerevan: The Temple of Garni is the only standing Greco-Roman colonnaded building in Armenia and the former Soviet Union. An Ionic temple located in the village of Garni, Armenia, it is the best-known structure and symbol of pre-Christian Armenia. (Info from: Wikipedia) Our tour guide stated that the structure was a Zoroastrian fire temple. [Photos] [Video, spiritual music]
The medieval monastery Geghard in the Kotayk province of Armenia is partially carved out of the adjacent mountain, surrounded by cliffs. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Info from: Wikipedia) [Photos]
At a Mt. Ararat vista point, haze prevented us from seeing the mountain today. Armenians consider Mt. Ararat, located in Turkey, sacred and believe that it will someday be reunited with Armenia. [Photos] [Video, music] [Video, our group getting off the bus] [Singing in the tour bus: Video 1; Video 2, Video 3]
(3) Meals: The hotel provided breakfast [Photos]. We had a group lunch as part of the guided tour [Video]. We had a light dinner at a friend's hotel suite and also some entertainment, involving violin music and group singing. [Photos] [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]

Poster for Fanni class of 1968 reunion in July 2018 2018/07/14 (Saturday): I am in Yerevan for the 50th Anniversary Reunion of the 1968 graduates of Tehran University's College of Engineering. I will update this entry and post new entries about Soccer World Cup 2018 outcome and my experiences in Armenia upon my return on Thursday 7/19.
As one of the activities associated with this gathering, I have been updating, with help from former classmates, a list of the graduates and our professors/instructors on my Personal Web Page.
P.S.: It's so ironic that graduates of an Iranian university cannot celebrate such a momentous anniversary in Iran. It's doubly painful that those of us traveling from outside Iran will get so close to the country of our birth and growing-up, without being able to visit it. Oh well!

2018/07/13 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Women in the US Congress: Map (1) Women in Congress: According to this Time magazine map, every US state but Vermont has sent at least one woman to Congress. The first woman to serve in Congress, Jeannette Rankin of Montana, was elected in 1916, four years before women were able to vote nationwide. Twenty states have never had a woman Senator. More details can be found in these interactive maps.
(2) Photos taken yesterday afternoon, as I walked home from work: The interesting cotton-candy cloud patterns formed excellent backdrops for these photos I snapped around UCSB's Storke Tower and the campus Arts District.
(3) Iranian man flogged for drinking as a teenager a decade ago: Amnesty International
(4) Democrat defends FBI agent Peter Strzok during Congressional hearing by reading quotes from Republican lawmakers who also expressed serious reservations about Trump's character flaws.
(5) Course review: Messenger, Professor Bill (Peabody Conservatory of Music), Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion, 8 lectures in the "Great Courses" series (8 CDs + guidebook), The Teaching Company, 1995. [My 4-star review of this course on GoodReads]
Let me begin by listing the lecture titles, which provide a good sense of what the course is about.
Lecture 1: Plantation Beginnings
Lecture 2: The Rise and Fall of Ragtime
Lecture 3: The Jazz Age
Lecture 4: Blues
Lecture 5: The Swing Era
Lecture 6: Boogie, Big Band Blues, and Bop
Lecture 7: Modern Jazz
Lecture 8: The ABCs of Jazz Improvisation
The guidebook ends with biographies of performers/bandleaders/singers/composers, a timeline, and bibliography.
Jazz had its beginnings in plantations and slaves singing using primitive banjos made of a bowl and a stick and similarly primitive percussion devices. One context in which early jazz was played was cakewalk, in which contestants would emulate the walk of their masters moving toward a cake, which they could win as a prize.
Before the age of microphones and amplifiers, guitars, drum brushes, and other instruments with small sounds were not used, as they could not be heard in the back of the room. Subtler instruments such as guitars and clarinets replaced banjos and tubas, as the loudness of sound was no longer a factor.
Plantation music evolved through ragtime, jazz, and blues. Swing music was the big-band version of jazz, with elaborate production and minimal or non-existent improvisation. Swing bands played music that people danced to, but their music quality was impressive. By contrast, society bands just focused on dance tunes. Blues music later gave rise to rock-n-roll.
I found the course very useful for understanding and appreciating jazz in its many forms

2018/07/12 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
My four chain-tweets on the perils of artificial intelligence (1) Here are my four chain-tweets this morning about an open letter, signed by Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and others, that is sometimes erroneously characterized as a stern warning on the perils of artificial intelligence.
(2) Current composition of the US Supreme Court (Time magazine chart) and how it has shifted to the right over the years (Mother Jones chart). [Charts]
(3) Here is what I think: Trump is utterly incapable of saying anything wise or profound that would make the headlines, so he gets himself in the news by making stupid and inflammatory remarks. He has made himself and us Americans laughingstocks of the world.
(4) Irony of the day: The man who compliments Putin and Russia at every opportunity, and who takes Putin's claim that Russia did not interfere in US elections at face value, accuses a European leader, who grew up behind the Iron Curtain and celebrated with her family the fall of the Berlin Wall, of being a Putin stooge!
(5) This Trump-Putin cartoon from a year ago is again topical, as the mutually-admiring racist despots, who have mastered the art of fake news, are set to meet.
(6) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of potential interest.
- Trump disses NATO before his summit with Putin: John Kelly's body language is priceless!
- Game of Thrones, SNL, Westworld, and Handmaid's Tale lead in Emmy nominations; Netflix tops HBO.
- Soccer World Cup: FIFA takes a stand against broadcasters zooming in on "hot women" during games.
- "People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for." ~ Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
- The beautiful night sky in Goleta, California, photographed on July 11, 2018. [Photos]
- UCSB Librarian Kristin Antelman combines a lifelong love of libraries with a passion for technology.
Cover image for Lisa Scottoline's 'Exposed' (7) Book review: Scottoline, Lisa, Exposed, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Kate Burton, Macmillan Audio, 2017. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
A law firm run by two women, colleagues and close personal friends Bennie Rosato and Mary DiNunzio, gets entangled in a case of conflict of interest, when Mary decides to defend a close friend wrongly fired by a subsidiary of a parent company, which is represented by Bennie. The book is part of Scottoline's "Rosato and Associates" series.
It appears that the fired man was let go because his cancer-stricken daughter would cost the company a fortune in out-of-pocket payments and raised insurance premiums. Of course, true to form for a legal thriller, things aren't as they seem and quite a few surprises await the women en route to resolving the problems, testing their friendship and professional commitments along the way.
Scottoline is a capable, best-selling author. In this book, parts of the writing are compelling and engaging, while other parts are filled with cliches and mushy expressions. An entertaining read/listen, and nothing more!

2018/07/11 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Soccer World Cup 2018 bracket as of July 11, 2018 (1) Soccer World Cup 2018: In Tueday's semifinals match, France was dominated early on by Belgium's possession game, but a couple of counter-attacks later, the play evened up. In the scoreless first half, Belgium trailed on shots taken. France scored in the 51st minute, prevailing 1-0. France deserved to win, but Belgium (my predicted World Cup champions) played one of their worst games, turning the ball over on numerous occasions.
In Wednesday's semifinals match, England scored on a 5th-minute free kick from outside the box, the only goal before halftime. Croatia came to life when it evened up the score in the 68th minute on a service from the right, claiming the momentum and gaining several scoring opportunities, but the match went into extra time, tied 1-1. Croatia took the lead in the 109th minute, advancing to the finals match against France. Croatia's 2-1 victory crushed England's dream of returning to the World Cup finals after 52 years.
(2) New Yorker humor about future nuptials: "The MacMillans announce the engagement of their daughter to a man with really fantastic health insurance."
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of potential interest.
- Americans in London told to keep low profile during Trump visit: Inflatable baby-Trump floated in protest.
- The nightmare continues: Trump accuses Germany of being totally controlled by Russia!
- A picture's worth a thousand words: Nato summit participants talk around and over Trump. [Photo]
- Flooded-cave rescue completed in Thailand: All 12 boys and their coach are now out.
- Woodland Hills postal worker found dead in her truck during Friday's extreme heat in Los Angeles.
- "They go low, we go high": A Chinese trade official uses Michelle Obama's phrase as a double-jab at Trump.
- Oil tanker collides with bus, killing at least 13 in the western Iranian city of Sanandaj.
- Persian music: Koorosh Yazdani's musical interpretation of Forough Farrokhzad's poem "Ghazal." [VoA]
(4) Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh nearly had me fooled: As I listened to him accepting the nomination, I thought he was quite warm and reasonable. Far from it! Information is emerging on his past activities and opinions that is troubling, to say the least, particularly the parts about deeming the President immune from prosecution and lawsuits (and this from a man who wanted to crucify Bill Clinton for his digressions). And I am not defending Clinton; just pointing out the hypocrisy.
(5) The 2018 documentary "Anote's Ark" (Trailer): Unfortunately, I could not attend the film's screening at UCSB last night, but I will look for another opportunity to watch it. The film is about the tiny Pacific nation of Kiribati (population: 100,000) which is facing an existential threat due to sea-level rise. The country's president is hard at work to protect his people and find a solution that maintains their dignity. Many of the country's citizens have already started moving away, leaving behind 4000 years of Kiribati culture. The film's editor and executive producer Mila Aung-Thwin was to join moderator Michael Harrahan in a post-screening discussion.

2018/07/09 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Four photos from my evening walk, today (1) Photos taken during my walk, this evening. Note the plane approaching Santa Barbara Airport in one photo.
(2) Understanding the Thailand cave-rescue operation: The cave dips from its entrance and then rises to where the soccer team is trapped [Map]. Parts of the cave between the team's location and the entrance are flooded. The only way out entails swimming underwater at a depth of 30 m. Drilling a hole (a la the collapsed Chilean-mine rescue) and building a compact underwater transport (Elon Musk's proposal) have been contemplated.
(3) Justice, Islamic-Republic-of-Iran style: Rapists and billion-dollar embezzlers go unpunished, but a teenager who posts dance videos on social media is charged with "spreading prostitution" and forced to tearfully recant on TV, and another young woman who dared to take off her scarf is sentenced to 20 years in jail, with her lawyer (rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh) also arrested and charged. [Reza Khandan's FB post, in Persian]
(4) NASA may have found space rocks under the sea for the first time: Scientists think they have located two hunks of a 2-ton meteorites that burst into the atmosphere over the northwestern US on March 7, 2018.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of potential interest.
- North Korea demands $1 billion from Israel, or it will sell missile technology to Iran.
- North Korea calls talks with Pompeo 'regrettable' because of his demand for unilateral denuking of NK.
- Iran's OPEC Chief: Donald Trump's tweets were responsible for a $10 rise in oil prices.
- Iran's harsh treatment of the dancing teen amid economic crisis brings criticism from all sides.
- The price of freedom to drive: An intensified crackdown on Saudi feminists [Time magazine, July 9, 2018]
- Trump memes: One posted by Don Jr. for July 4th and one ridiculing his self-promoting "success stories."
- Spiders use the Earth's electric field to fly hundreds of miles.
- Scientists argue re the relative merits of exploring Europa or Enceladus (Jupiter's moons) for signs of life.
(6) A rare genetic anomaly: An 11-year-old girl, one of only 25 known cases worldwide, all females, got nearly all of her genes from her dad and almost none from her mom.
(7) Habibi you can drive my car: Beatles' song, arranged by cellist Naseem Alatrash and featuring vocalist Nano Raies, is dedicated to Saudi women who have been allowed to drive.
(8) Final thought for the day: Try to imagine what Don the Con would be tweeting today about Putin, had Russia been caught meddling in favor of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election!

2018/07/07 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The magnificent sunset on Moonstone Beach, near Cambria, California (1) Having a wonderful time in the beautiful Cambria, California: I am participating in a family retreat on California's Central Coast, July 4-8: We watched a fireworks show (Photos, Video 1, Video 2, the finale) in Shamel Park, along Moonstone Beach, did lots of walking, watched some soccer, visited Hearst Castle (Cottages, Kitchen/Wine-Cellar, Outside/Pools), walked by Morro Rock, dined in the area's wonderful eateries, and still had plenty of time to read, relax, and engage in family conversations. We stayed at Cambria Pines Lodge, which offered a free breakfast buffet and live music in its lounge. The sunset photo is from our Moonstone Beach bluffs-top walk on July 7.
(2) Friday 7/06 in Soccer World Cup: Brazil outshot Belgium by a three-to-one ratio, but Belgium took a 2-goal lead and eventually prevailed 2-1 [highlights], thanks to their goalie's heroism. They will face France, 2-0 winners over Uruguay, in the first semifinals match [highlights]. It's going to be an all-European semifinals!
(3) Saturday 7/07 in Soccer World Cup: Sweden prevailed 2-0 over England to advance [highlights]. Tied 2-2 at the end of overtime, Croatia ended Russia's dream run 4-3 on PKs [highlights]. Semifinals matches will be played on Tuesday 7/10 (France-Belgium) and Wednesday 7/11 (Croatia-England).
Cover image for Laura Hillenbrand's 'Unbroken' (4) Book review: Hillenbrand, Laura, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Edward Hermann, Random House Audio, 2010.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This World War II biographical tome tells the life story of Louis Zamperini [1917-2014], famed Olympics miler and survivor of Japanese POW camps, his heroism, and his multiple brushes with death. The bomber plane carrying Zamperini and 10 others crashed in the Pacific Ocean, killing nearly the entire crew and leading to a remarkable feat of survival on a flimsy raft for him and a buddy, both subsequently captured by the Japanese some 2000 miles from the point of crash.
While Zamperini's spirit never broke in captivity, despite the horrendous abuse, torture, and starvation, he nearly came to a breaking point upon his return to the US at the end of hostilities. The psychological damage was just too great. He was saved from madness by Rev. Billy Graham and Zamperini's own remembering a promise he made to himself during desperate times that if was saved from that situation, he would devote himself to God's work.
The plight of US prisoners of war in Japan is frightening: While only 1% of American POWs died in Europe, nearly one third perished in Japanese prison-camp sites, many of which were not even registered as POW camps to avoid international scrutiny and inspections. Zamperini's spiritual awakening led him to forgive his Japanese tormentors, including the man nicknamed "The Bird,' who was the most abusive.
Hillenbrand's research and attention to detail is remarkable. The reader/listener feels s/he is present in the scenes described, be they aboard a bomber being riddled with bullets from Japanese planes, weeks afloat on a raft circled by sharks, or months of abuse and torture by sadistic guards, who forced prisoners into slave labor and nearly starved them to death by stealing their rations. At times, the narrative becomes repetitive, but it is, by and large, captivating and gut-wrenching.
To be fair, Hillenbrand has been accused of exaggerating Zamperini's heroism and of becoming too awestruck by his tales to see his faults. However, it is often true of biographies that they are written by adoring or adversarial observers, the two groups of people most motivated to write. Hillenbrand may have bought into some of Zamperini's stories without due diligence, but her Unbroken is epic nonetheless.
Zamperini's life was the subject of the 1992 movie, "Zamperini: Still Carrying the Torch." This piece, entitled "The Rest of the Story: The Life of Louis Zamperini after 'Unbroken'," provides additional interesting tidbits on Louis Zamperini's life.

2018/07/05 (Thursday): Book review: Abbott, Edwin A., Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, Dover, 1992 (originally published by Seeley & Co., Ltd., in 1884). [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Cover image for Edwin A. Abbott's 'Flatland' This imaginative book is a rather short one (my Dover edition has 83 pages), but it contains much food for thought. The central theme is life and its perception in a 0D world or Pointland, a 1D world or Lineland, a 2D world or Flatland, and a 3D world or Spaceland, with references to even higher-dimensional worlds. The book's old prose style makes it difficult to understand some of the concepts, but it is an enjoyable read nonetheless.
Ever since Einstein presented his theory of relativity, we have gotten used to thinking of 4D spacetime, with its extra dimension, that is, time, not quite the same as the other three dimensions. But beyond 4 dimensions, our intuition fails us. Contemplating life in lower-dimensional worlds could be useful for visualizing and understanding higher-dimensional worlds. When we read about the challenges of a denizen of Spaceland trying to make a Flatland creature understand the notion of the third dimension or "height," we realize how limited our faculties are in visualizing more dimensions.
The bulk of the book is about Flatland, a 2D world holding various geometric life forms. Women are straight line segments, soldiers and lower classes are acute isosceles triangles, middle-class men are equilateral triangles, and so on; the higher the social class, the larger the number of sides, with the highest class, the priests, being circular or nearly-circular (they have so many sides that it is hard to tell them apart from perfect circles). Flatland houses are polygons with their "roofs" toward the north, where rain comes from. Everything is attracted toward the south, the analog of gravity in our 3D world.
A streak of misogyny runs through the narrative, which isn't surprising, given the book's original publication in the late 1800s and the author being a theologian. I could not ascertain whether the misogyny is tongue-in-cheek, meant to be humorous like many other aspects of the narrative, or there is a serious view of women as the "frail" sex [p. 12] that, nevertheless, have to be watched carefully for the tricks they may have up their sleeves, including the ability to harm others with their pointy ends and to make themselves nearly invisible. Elsewhere, we read about the scandals that might befall the upper classes if they were mistakenly thought to be women with "frivolous and unseemly conduct" [p. 30]. The narrator, a Spaceland man, talks about his wife "whose good sense far exceeds that of the average of her Sex" [p. 75] and about a particular explanation being so simple and straightforward "as to be patent even to the Female Sex" [p. 77].
The question of distinguishing different Flatland denizens, particularly friends from foes, in a world where everyone seems like a straight line-segment is discussed at length, as are the concepts of marriage, procreation, and so on. In fact, things get even eerier in Lineland, where everyone looks like a point (a woman). Even line segments of varying lengths (young men and men of different ages) would be indistinguishable from points in the absence of some other sensory capabilities, which are postulated. "[L]ife in Lineland must be deplorably dull. To see nothing but a Point! Not even to be able to contemplate a Straight Line! Nay, not even to know what a Straight Line is!" [p. 49] And in Pointland, everything is one and the same, giving rise to the King/God of Pointland who can never be rescued from his self-satisfaction. (Sounds familiar?)
The Flatland narrator takes it upon himself to preach the Gospel of Three Dimensions, something that gets him in deep trouble with the authorities! Eventually, he finds it safer to speak and write of Thoughtland, where taboo notions are viewed as figments of our imagination, rather than suggesting a concrete 3D land.

2018/07/04 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Lady Liberty and fireworks (1) Happy July 4th to all fellow Americans! Here is one of my favorite quotes about patriotism, coming from former French President Charles de Gaulle: "Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first."
(2) Iranian women rock! At great risk of physical harm, not just from government thugs but also from backward men on the street who see women's empowerment as a threat to their power, women disobey mandatory headscarf laws and bans against all signs of vitality and joy (colorful clothing, singing, dancing, laughing in public).
(3) We stigmatize accents, but language belongs to everyone: Argentinian-born scholar/novelist Hernan Diaz reads his essay about accent discrimination and why instead of ridiculing accents we should celebrate them.
(4) Cartoon caption of the day (in court): "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, even though nobody has any idea what that is anymore?" [From: The New Yorker]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of potential interest.
- Cohen is third associate to indicate Trump knows more about the meeting with Russians than he lets on.
- Rebuking Trump, key Senate panel endorses finding that Russia attacked the 2016 US election.
- Ethical questions about EPA chief Scott Pruitt keep piling up with release of new e-mails.
- White House tweets personal attacks on Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren for stance on ICE.
- Multiple wildfires are still burning out of control in Northern California.
- Music news: David Foster proposes to Katharine McPhee during romantic Italian vacation.
- Iranian officials are scared of my hair, says Iranian journalist and women's-rights activist Masih Alinejad.
(6) Now, a couple of days of rest from soccer: World Cup schedule for the remaining eight matches involving 6 European and 2 South American teams. All times PDT. I will be watching the final match in Yerevan, Armenia!
Soccer World Cup 2018 logo Fri. 7/06: Uruguay v. France (Fox Sports, 7:00 AM)
Fri. 7/06: Brazil v. Belgium (Fox Sports, 11:00 AM)
Sat. 7/07: Sweden v. England (Fox, 7:00 AM)
Sat. 7/07: Russia v. Croatia (Fox, 11:00 AM)
Tue. 7/10: Uruguay/France winner v. Brazil/Belgium winner (Fox, 11:00 AM)
Wed. 7/11: Russia/Croatia winner v. Sweden/England winner (Fox, 11:00 AM)
Sat. 7/14: Third-place match between semifinals losers (Fox, 7:00 AM)
Sun. 7/15: Championship match between semifinals winners (Fox, 7:00 AM)
(7) Presidential lies are getting bigger by the day: Trump's claim that the Obama administration granted 2500 US citizenship visas to Iranians (including many officials) as part of the nuclear deal is totally baseless.
(8) Final thought for the day: The entire immigration debate and made-up stats for crimes and other misdeeds by illegal aliens are just methods to distract the working poor by blaming their misery on other working poor, rather than on income inequality and corporate welfare in the form of subsidies and tax breaks.

2018/07/03 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Soccer World Cup 2018 bracket as of July 03, 2018 (1) Monday 7/02 in Soccer World Cup: Two matches played in the round of 16.
- After 50 minutes of relentless attack, Brazil finally got through and took a 1-0 lead over Mexico. An 89th-minute second goal sealed Mexico's fate, 0-2.
- Japan fought valiantly to keep the first half scoreless against an explosive Belgian team. Then, instead of Belgium taking over in the second half, Japan scored twice in the first 7 minutes. Belgium floundered for a while, but then woke up to score two quick goals to even up the match 2-2. With big saves by the two goalies near the end, it seemed that the match would be going into overtime, but Belgium scored on a counter-attack in the last minute of stoppage time to win 3-2. [2-minute highlights]
(2) Tuesday 7/03 in Soccer World Cup: Today's matches set up the quarterfinals roster, per the chart above.
- Sweden squeezed by Switzerland 1-0, on a shot that was deflected, but wasn't ruled an own goal.
- England scored on a PK in the 57th minute and Colombia equalized in the third minute of stoppage time. Extra time produced no goals and England won 4-3 on PKs.
[Marginal note 1: The score box at the top of the TV screen shows the teams' jersey colors between the flag symbols and country names (in this image, yellow for Sweden, red for Switzerland).]
[Marginal note 2: When is a soccer score classified as an own goal? This question arose and was answered after Sweden's sole goal today. If the shot isn't on frame but is deflected into the net, it's an own goal, otherwise (when it is on target but deflected into the net), it is a regular goal credited to the player taking the shot.]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of potential interest.
- North Korea is reportedly expanding its production facility for ballistic missiles.
- Six children and three adults stabbed at birthday party, four of them critically, in building housing refugees.
- All 12 boys and their soccer coach, who were trapped in a flooded cave in Tahiland, found alive.
- Arrested US Border Patrol Agent is accused of distributing child pornography through an iPhone app.
- Nobel Laureate and UCSB professor Shuji Nakamura honored by Carnegie Corp. as a 'Great Immigrant.'
- Microsoft to release pocket computing device sporting a double-size foldable display with no hinge gap.
- Fresh protests erupt: in the southern Iranian city of Abadan over pollution and shortage of drinking water.
- Signs from the June 30 nationwide protests against family separations and inhumane immigration policies.
- "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little." ~ Edmund Burke
- So much of "AI" is just figuring out ways to offload work onto random strangers. [Cartoon][Source: xkcd]
(4) California AG adds OK to a ban (AB 1887) on state-funded and state-sponsored travel to states with laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people. These states include: AL, KS, KY, MS, NC, SD, TN, TX.
(5) Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen breaks his silence in interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos. Cohen, who once said he'd take a bullet for Trump, now declares his loyalty to his family and country. He answered no significant question in his ABC News interview, citing "advice from counsel." Meanwhile, he is aiming for a book deal and new business opportunities by wrapping himself in the flag.

2018/07/01 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Poster for Marjan Satrapi's 'Persepolis' (1) Summer Cinema (Under the Stars) in Santa Barbara: "Animated Nights," film screenings in July & August
Wednesdays / 7:30 PM / UCSB Campbell Hall
Fridays / 8:30 PM / SB County Courthouse Sunken Garden
- F 7/06 (only): The 19th Annual Animation Show of Shows
- W 7/11 & F 7/13: The Triplets of Belleville
- W 7/18 & F 7/20: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
- W 7/25 & F 7/27: Fantastic Mr. Fox
- W 8/01 (only): Ratatouille
- W 8/08 & F 8/10: The Iron Giant
- W 8/15 & F 8/17: Persepolis (see image)
- W 8/22 & F 8/24: Loving Vincent
(2) The Bitcoin system is vulnerable to collusion among participating miners: In an article appearing in Communications of the ACM, issue of July 2018, entitled "Majority Is Not Enough: Bitcoin Mining is Vulnerable," Itty Ayal and and Gun Sirer discuss the nature of this vulnerability, which arises from the invalidity of the self-interest assumption in Bitcoin mining. One key open challenge is the process by which security vulnerabilities might be disclosed to decentralized blockchain projects so as to prevent the abuse of the said information by those receiving it.
(3) Political humor: A well-researched Bill Maher monologue, telling us that our health and longevity depends more on what we do collectively than on our individual dietary and exercise choices.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of potential interest.
- A rhetorical question: Will Michael Cohen emerge as a national hero by helping to bring Trump down?
- Teacher to student: "I appreciate the text, Kate, but next time please just raise your hand."
- The law of USB cables: No matter how many you buy, you have at most one that works.
- "Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are. It solely relies on what you think." ~ Buddha
- I have been doing engineering wrong: Must include the side effect of sarcasm! [Diagram]
- Cartoon of the day: A quintessentially human thing that computers can't do! [Image source: xkcd]
(5) Saturday 6/30 in Soccer World Cup: Two matches were played in the round of 16. The hoped-for face-off between Messi and Ronaldo did not materialize, as both Argentina and Portugal were eliminated.
- France scored first on a PK, but Argentina scored twice to make it 2-1. France took a commanding 4-2 lead with three closely-spaced goals. Argentina scored in stoppage time to make it 4-3, but time ran out for them.
- Uruguay scored in the 6th minute, but Portugal scored early in the second half to even it up. Shortly thereafter, Uruguay took the lead for good, winning 2-1
(6) Sunday 7/01 in Soccer World Cup: Two matches were played in the round of 16.
- The cinderella team, 65th-ranked Russia, tied 1-1 with 8th-ranked Spain after overtime, won 4-3 on PKs. The next lowest-ranked teams remaining in the tournament are Japan (44th) and Sweden (25th).
- In the battle of equals, 18th-ranked Croatia and 19th-ranked Denmark, the score was 1-1 after 4 minutes and at the end of 90 minutes. Croatia failed to convert on a PK in extra time, sending the match into the PK shoot-out, which Croatia won 3-2. Half of the 10 PK shots were saved by the goalies!

2018/06/30 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for Dan Ariely's 'The Upside of Irrationality' (1) Book review: Ariely, Dan, The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Simon Jones, HarperAudio, 2010.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This sequel, from the author of the highly successful Predictably Irrational, a book about how human-beings' irrational behavior undermines standard economic theories, which are based on rational decision-making, looks at the flip side of the coin: That our survival is actually dependent on that irrational behavior. Ariely, a Duke University professor, draws upon his own and other social-scientists' research (in a field known as "behavioral economics"), as well as medical experiments, to ask and answer a multitude of questions about human decision-making and how to improve it.
Examples of useful and often counterintuitive insights abound in this book. For instance, when monetary bonuses get too large, they begin having a detrimental effect on performance. You can imagine that studying the effects of large bonuses can quickly get quite expensive for the experimenter! So, much of the work about this topic was performed in India, where one can pay the equivalent of several months' salary as a reward, without bankrupting the research project.
As another example, we tend to overvalue things that we make and ideas that we conceive, even if they are lousy compared with other options (the "Ikea effect" and the not-invented-here syndrome). Thus, even though assembling an IKEA bookshelf, say, requires no creativity on our part, we still cherish the finished product as if it were our creation. This bias explains why managers continue to pour resources into a failing project, after expending much time and effort on it, and why offering customization options to customers pays off. By the way, the Ikea effect isn't unique to humans, as certain animals also exhibit the bias.
Another interesting insight is the key role of revenge in human emotions and behavior. If you are given $20, say, and instructed to pass on a portion of it to another participant, with each of you keeping your share if the other side accepts the offer and neither of you getting to keep any of it if the offer is rejected, you might be tempted to offer a small amount to maximize your own share. However, the other participant may reject an offer of $1, say, thus depriving himself of $1, so as to punish you for your stinginess. Revenge is an important human trait that also rears its head in many other contexts, such as in trying to punish a company that offers poor customer service.
Ariely weaves into the narrative a number of autobiographical elements, including the challenges he faced as a burn patient, making this book more personal, and somewhat more accessible, than Predictably Irrational. The book is a pleasant read/listen, that requires very little in terms of background knowledge.
[Dan Ariely's 20-minute TEDx talk on what makes us feel good about our work.]
(2) Ojai Valley Lavender Festival, today in Ojai's Libby Park: Parking near Bart's Books, the world-famous outdoors bookstore, I walked towards the festival venue, snapping these photos. After arriving in the park, I took 3 photos and a video of the Sound Arch, located at the entrance to Libby Bowl. A hundreds or so protesters were holding signs and chanting along the main downtown street in front of the park, in solidarity with nationwide protests against inhumane immigration policies and separation of families seeking asylum in the US. A pleasant part of the Lavender Festival and others of its kind is the local musical talent that is often comparable in quality to the best national groups. I managed to watch performances by three such groups while I was at the Festival: Lynn Mullins & Coyote Creek (Video 1, Video 2); Cindy Kalmenson & the Lucky Ducks (Video 1, Video 2); Smitty & Julija (Video 1, Video 2). The last act above was a duo, which had a couple of guest performers and is leaving on a European and Middle Eastern tour tomorrow.

2018/06/29 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Five victims of the 2018/06/28 mass shooting at 'Capital Gazette' (1) Survivors of yesterday's mass shooting at Capital Gazette in Annapolis, MD, during which 5 employees were killed and 2 were injured, have pledged to put out a paper today. [Photos depict the 5 murdered employees: "Enemies of the American people"]
(2) Remembering Mona: Widespread international outrage at the execution of Mona, the youngest of nine Baha'i women killed on June 18, 1983, helped bring the executions to an end, but persecution of Baha'is continues unabated.
(3) Cover of Communications of the ACM, issue of July 2018: The lamb on the cover has cut-out eyes, which show the eyes of a wolf on the next page. The message is the need to make machine learning robust against adversarial inputs. [Full text of the cover-feature article]
(4) Airbnb on travel ban: In a statement on the SCOTUS affirming Trump's travel ban, Airbnb has pledged matching donations to the International Refugee Assistance Project. "We believe that travel is a transformative and powerful experience and that building bridges between cultures and communities creates a more innovative, collaborative and inspired world."
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of potential interest.
- There are no World Cup soccer matches today, so here's something for you to watch to avoid boredom!
- Massive outage of Comcast services shows the Internet's extreme fragility. [Wired story]
- Trump to meet with his very honest boss to make plans against dishonest FBI and American press.
- No child separation here, unless Stephen Miller becomes a liability, apt for under-the-bus duty! [Cartoon]
- The Iranian economy and currency are in turmoil, but President Rouhani says not to worry! [Images]
- Iranian Dance: Niosha Dance Academy students perform at a Golden State Warriors basketball game.
- [Book picks for learning to program] Elementary: Programming 101; Advanced: Programming 1100101
- Moon-rise and sunset Tuesday evening, at Goleta's Coal Oil Point and in the vicinity of Devereux Slough.
(6) [Humor] My tweet prediction: "Low-IQ Michael Cohen knows nothing about me. He made coffee at the office; and it was awful coffee, even worse than the coffee made by George Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort."
(7) The Internet Apologizes: This is the title of an article in New York Magazine, with the premise that "free information" (that is, information provider's costs covered by ad revenues) was a mistake that must be fixed ASAP. On the surface, sellers and marketers pay for ads, but because they inevitably recover the costs of advertising from us buyers, the scheme amounts to a non-transparent tax on everyone. Other than this hidden tax, we pay for the "free" information by giving our private data to advertisers or intermediaries, so as to allow ad placement linked to our interests. The ad-revenue model has also provided incentives for social media and news outlets to gravitate toward outrageous stories and click-baits, in an effort to attract more eyeballs. We brought this on ourselves!
(8) Final thought for the day: Iran's soccer coach Carlos Queiroz fields his complaints in a news conference, speaking about lack of transparency in FIFA's decisions, which favor major teams and big-name players.

2018/06/28 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Soccer World Cup 2018 bracket as of June 28, 2018 (1) Predicting the World Cup champion: The round-of-16 match-ups are now set, as shown in the accompanying bracket, which also includes the teams' FIFA world rankings as subscripts, to help others in making predictions. The top half of the bracket includes all the top-5 teams, with the exception of the number-1 Germany, which was eliminated in a surprise. Brazil, Portugal, and Argentina didn't look sharp in the group stage, so I predict Belgium to advance to the final match. The bottom half of the bracket is more challenging to predict. Spain is 8th-ranked and seems to have a relatively easy path of advancement in the first two rounds (beating Russia and the winner of Croatia-Denmark). So, I predict a championship match between Belgium and Spain, with Belgium winning.
(2) Wednesday in Soccer World Cup: Four matches were played to close Groups F and E.
Group F: Mexico, thought to be safe, squeezed through, due to eliminated South Koreans sinking Germany.
- Sweden humiliated Mexico 3-0, putting it in danger of elimination with 6 points, but S. Korea intervened.
- In a most surprising result, South Korea beat Germany 2-0, the second goal scored in an empty net.
Group E: Costa Rica was out, with Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia (4, 4, 3 points) all still in the running.
- Brazil prevailed over Serbia 2-0, thus advancing as the top team in Group E. [2-minutes highlights]
- Switzerland played to a 2-2 draw with Costa Rica to claim the group's second spot. [3-minute highlights]
(3) Thursday in Soccer World Cup: Four matches were played to close Groups H and G.
Group H: Poland was out, with Japan, Senegal, and Colombia (4, 4, 3 points) contending for top two spots.
- Poland played the spoiler by beating Japan 1-0 to make the records of Japan and Senegal dead even.*
- Colombia beat Senegal 1-0 on a header off a corner kick to advance as the top group team.
Group G: England and Belgium had already advanced; only next round's team match-ups were at stake.
- In the battle of eliminated teams, Tunisia was the favored side against Panama, and it won 2-1.
- Belgium was reluctant to press on after it took the lead 1-0, good enough for the top spot in Group G.**
[*Japan and Senegal were so even, that a little-known tie-breaking rule had to be applied. Both teams had 4 points in the group stage, both had scored 4 goals and conceded 4 goals. They had tied when they played each other. The "fair play" tie-breaking rule favored Japan, with its 4 yellow cards against Senegal's 6.]
[**Belgium and England played to determine the top team and second team in Group G. The two teams were dead even in the standings (6 points each, 8 goals for, 2 goals against). Much was at stake here. The top team would play Japan (FIFA rank 44), whereas the second team would face a much tougher Colombia (rank 13).]
(4) A Moore's Law for Packaging: This was the title of a talk yesterday afternoon by Subramanian S. Iyer (UCLA), whose research is focused on removing packaging barriers to exploiting the greater performance made possible by denser circuits (Moore's Law). Current packaging technology (chips placed on PC boards) wastes much of the chip-level performance gain, owing to narrower and slower links on the PC board compared with intra-chip connections. One solution is to replace the PC board with a silicon substrate (wafer) onto which dies of various kinds are fused through pressure and heat. [Photos]
(5) GRIT talk yesterday afternoon: Computer Science Professor William Wang spoke in the Groundbreaking Research / Innovative Technology lecture series, under the title "Artificial Intelligence: What's Next?" Professor Wang, who directs UCSB's Natural Language Processing Group, began by reviewing the stunning progress of AI over the past few decades, particularly in machine learning, natural-language processing, and computer vision. He then outlined his group's work at the intersection of AI and language that may lead to the emergence of empathetic conversational agents to understand and generate human sentences with rich emotions. Examples might include interpreting and writing Yelp reviews. In addition to his group's work with Emojis, Professor Wang referred to IBM's Debater as an example of human-like language skills. [Photos]

2018/06/27 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Wikipedia tables showing World Cup groups and how they were formed (1) How the World Cup 2018 groups were formed: According to Wikipedia, teams were divided into 4 pots in order of seeding (1-7, plus host; 8-15; 16-23; 24-31), with a group formed by drawing a random team from each pot. FIFA indicates that Group E was the strongest and Russia's Group A the weakest. Iran's group B was the third strongest.
(2) The coldest points on Earth's surface: The temperature of –93 degrees Celsius (–135 F) observed in several spots on the East Antarctic Plateau, is much lower than previously thought. The highest temperature ever recorded on Earth is 134 F or ~57 C (Death Valley, USA; July 10, 1913), making the temperature range nearly symmetric in Fahrenheit! The interval from lowest to highest is 150 C wide.
(3) A beautifully-made Apple commercial: It uses this touching song by manic-depressive artist Daniel Johnston. The video includes lyrics and Johnston's life story.
(4) Space Force, the sixth branch of the US military: The current five branches are Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. At one point in the past, the US did not have a separate Air Force. Rather, the Army created what was known as the Army Air Force (AAF) to take advantage of airborne vehicles for logistics and combat. As the importance of air transportation grew, AAF was separated from US Army to became USAF. Experts say that the same situation will inevitably happen to the Space Division of USAF, as more and more assets are placed in space, where they need protection from enemy aggression and mischief, not to mention the possibility of space-based combat capabilities. Creating US Space Force may be premature now, but, in the long run, it may be inevitable.
Wikipedia tables showing World Cup groups and how they were formed (5) Book review: Tartt, Donna, The Secret History: A Novel, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, HarperAudio, 2007.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This first novel of Mississippi-born Donna Tartt is a Lieutenant-Columbo-style detective story, in which not the person committing the crime but his motive is a mystery. The murder occurs within the confines of an academically and socially isolated group of classics students, studying under the tutelage of a charismatic professor who is very picky about the students he admits. The students in this small group try to inject some excitement into their lives, but their neat schemes eventually unravel, turning them into a clique of out-of-touch, evil minds.
The protagonist is a young man from California who narrates the story as he experiences life at an elite Vermont college. Now, a woman author speaking on behalf of a man, or vice versa, isn't all that uncommon in books. However, it becomes a bit confusing when the author reads her own book, with her female voice describing in the first person the actions and feelings of a man. It took me a couple of hours of listening time before I began feeling comfortable with the reversed gender experience.
Woven into the main narrative about the murder and its aftermaths are discussions of nuances of ancient Greece and life in a small Vermont town. An enjoyable read/listen, despite the devious, unlikable characters!

2018/06/26 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Graphic illustrating Benford's Law for decimal numbers (1) Benford's Law: Consider a large collection of numbers from a real-world data set. We tend to assume that the digits in such a set of numbers are nearly uniformly distributed, but this intuition is way off in the case of the first or leading digit. Research has shown that the probability of the first digit being D is approximately log(1 + 1/D), where the log function is in base 10 for decimal data. So, the probability of the first digit being 1 is more than six times that of it being 9 (about 30% vs. less than 5%). An immediate corollary is that if you take numbers of a certain fixed width, say, in the interval [100, 999], nearly half of them will begin with 1 or 2 and thus will be relatively small. Benford's Law has been used for detecting data forgeries, be they in scientific research, political elections (e.g., Iran 2009), or in financial records (such as tax returns). Wikipedia has an excellent article on the topic. [Graph from: Chegg.com]
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of potential interest.
- Lady Liberty thinks we should all care! [Image]
- "It's encouraging that Sarah Sanders was judged not by her skin color but by her character content."
- Don't boo or harass them. Don't sink with them to the bottom. Let's restore civility, even if it's one-way.
- Our language shapes the way we think. [2-minute video clip from a TED talk]
- Persian poetry: A verse from classical Iranian poet Sa'di.
- Taking the World Cup too seriously: Egyptian commentator dies after his country loses to Saudi Arabia.
- Prepare for soccer withdrawal symptoms on Friday 6/29, between the group stage and the knockout round.
(3) Monday in Soccer World Cup: Four matches were played to close Groups A and B.
Group A: Both matches were meaningless, except for determining the next opponents of Russia and Uruguay.
- Uruguay, which led Russia 2-0 at halftime, prevailed 3-0 to become the top team of Group A.
- Going into halftime 1-1, Saudi Arabia scored seconds before the end of stoppage time to defeat Egypt 2-1.
Group B: Morocco was out, but the other teams were still in the running, with Iran's chances being slim.
- Portugal got lucky to survive Iran 1-1, scoring just before halftime, missing a PK, and giving up a PK goal.
- Playing evenly, Spain and Morocco were tied 1-1 at halftime and ended the match 2-2; Spain advances.
(4) Tuesday in Soccer World Cup: Four matches were played to close Groups C and D.
Group C: France is in and Peru is out; Australia has an outside chance of advancing, in an unlikely scenario.
- Satisfied with the status quo, France (top group spot) and Denmark (second) battled to a scoreless draw.
- The already-eliminated Peru crushed Australia's meager hopes of advancing by beating it 2-0.
Group D: Nigeria or Argentina will likely advance with Croatia. Unlikely: Iceland crushing both teams' hopes.
- Argentina led Nigeria 1-0 at halftime (on a beautiful goal by Messi) and won 2-1 to avoid elimination.
- After a scoreless first half, Croatia crushed Iceland's meager hopes of advancing by beating it 2-1.
(5) My partial bracket for World Cup 2018, with 8 of the teams in the round-of-16 already identified.
(6) Top 500 supercomputers in the world: After many years of domination by China, the US has reclaimed the topmost spot, but in terms of the number of computers in the top 500, China's lead has widened, now standing at 206 to 124.

2018/06/25 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Prominent Iranian women who wrote a letter to FIFA, asking that it seek a permanent end to the ban against women entering sports stadiums in Iran (1) Women's rights in Iran: Postings on Facebook about 18 prominent Iranian women asking FIFA to seek a permanent end to the ban against women entering sports stadiums in Iran, have garnered numerous scolding comments that suggest these distinguished women are the enemies of Iran and allies of imperialism, the Saudis, Israel, and others. My input to the overheated discussion follows.
From my viewpoint, any movement towards justice and any pressure applied to a dictatorial regime should be welcome by the entire opposition spectrum.
Unfortunately, there are two major forces dissing demands for reasonable reforms as stepping stones for broader changes, bringing to mind the aphorism, "Perfect is the enemy of good" (popularized by Voltaire):
(a) Supporters of the Islamic regime, who, in their zeal for self-preservation, hush any opposition under the pretense that the US, the Saudis, Israel, and other unnamed "enemies" will take advantage of open criticism.
(b) Some supporters of alternative, not completely specified but in their view "perfect," political system, who believe that Iran must collapse (militarily and economically), before it can be rebuilt according to their taste.
Resorting to universally accepted rights and pointing to illogical restrictions (women attending sporting events in Iran or driving cars in Saudi Arabia) provides the best hope for making any progress in the human and women's rights domains.
Such tiny steps are already quite dangerous, especially when taken by those living in Iran, as we read daily in the news coming from the country's arbitrary "justice" system.
The ongoing World Cup in Russia, being watched by many millions around the world, makes the timing of this action ideal for garnering attention to the plight of women in Iran.
(2) Book review: Kondo, Marie (translated by Cathy Hirano), The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Ten Speed Press, 2014.
Cover image of Marie Kondo's 'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing' [My three-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I read this book about half-way through, before becoming frustrated with its arbitrary rules and over-generalizations. Most everyone knows that clutter takes a toll on our peace of mind and productivity, but each of us has a slightly different way of dealing with the problem. Kondo suggests that effective decluttering requires that we get rid of extra stuff in one fell swoop and that gradual tidying up by getting rid of one item, say, per day is bound to fail. Yet, I have found such a gradual approach quite effective in my case, not just in reducing clutter but also in making a dent in piled-up tasks.
For example, when I accumulate a large number of titles on my books-to-read or book-reviews-to-write list, I resolve to take care of one item per a reasonable time period, such as one week or one month. I have found that making progress in reducing clutter or backlogs provides sufficient motivation to keep up. It's a pleasant feeling to see space open up or lists shrink, even if the clearing up or shrinkage is not total.
I am not convinced that someone with difficulty in tossing one item per day can achieve the vastly more challenging task of getting rid of a whole bunch of stuff at once. We tend to accumulate junk because items have sentimental or economic value. We keep our children's writings or artwork, because they help us remember or visualize them growing up. Those of us who are tinkerers or fixers, keep parts of broken gadgets in our garage because we think that someday they may be of use in replacing a part in another broken gadget. If this is our motivation (saving money or time in finding a replacement later), then we need organizing skills not decluttering skills.
Having expressed my reservations, I do think that Kondo's book might be useful for those who don't have their own ideas about how to declutter or where to start. Do read the book, if this applies to you, but be mindful that any general edict about doing a task in a particular way, with no viable alternative, is likely to be misguided.

2018/06/24 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The New Yorker's cover image, issue of July 2, 2018, shows immigrant children taking refuge with Lady Liberty (1) The New Yorker's cover image, issue of July 2, 2018, shows immigrant children taking refuge with Lady Liberty.
(2) Google cloud engineers refuse to work on a war-related government project: The refusal by the so-called "Group of Nine" may cost Google billions, but it's a welcome harbinger of socially responsible engineering.
(3) Prominent Iranian women ask FIFA to seek a permanent end to the ban on women entering sports stadiums in Iran.
(4) This man isn't really blind, is he? [Photo]
Gives a new meaning to seeing with your mind's eye! I have no idea who the man is and in what city/country the photo was taken.
(5) While Iranians are distracted by the prospects of soccer glory, the free-market rate for one US dollar in Iran has surpassed 8800 tomans, more than double the official rate of 4260 tomans.
(6) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Apple to release its AirPower wireless charger later this year: Prelude to removing the Lightning port?
- Trump thinks signing two pieces of paper has solved the NK nuclear threat and the immigration problem!
- Texas wants no stinking liberals! [Photo of roadside billboard]
- Certain genes may underlie several psychiatric conditions. [Eric Topol tweet]
- Iran's President Rouhani takes a cue from Donald Trump, attacking the media for criticizing his record.
- Sufi Mohammad Salas Babajani was executed in Iran, as the country's soccer team played in Russia.
(7) Saturday in Soccer World Cup: Three matches were played in Groups F and G.
- After leading 3-1 at halftime, Belgium defeated Tunisia 5-2 in an exciting match. [3-minute highlights]
- Mexico continued its good showing, edging past South Korea 2-1, after scoring its first goal on a PK.
- Germany avoided elimination in a thrilling 2-1 victory over Sweden, after falling behind in minute 32.
[In the margins of Germany's win: The Germans pulled off a lucky win, an obvious PK not called against them, playing one man down late in the match, and scoring deep into stoppage time.]
(8) Sunday in Soccer World Cup: Three matches were played in Groups G and H.
- Scoring on 2 PKs and a variety of styles on 4 more goals, England crushed Panama 6-1.
- Senegal took the lead after 11 minutes, with the two teams alternating in scoring, for a 2-2 draw
- The Polish defense resembled cheese, as Colombia sliced through it repeatedly, to win 3-0.
(9) Group standings in the 2018 World Cup: Each team has now played two matches, with the third match to be played in simultaneous pairs (e.g., Iran-Portugal at the exact same time as Spain-Morocco) over the next 4 days, to reduce the chances of team collusions, when the advancement of a team playing in one match depends on the performance of the other two teams in the group).
Monday (Groups A, B); Tuesday (Groups C, D); Wednesday (Groups F, E); Thursday (Groups H, G). Of each simultaneous pair of matches, one will be on Fox and the other on Fox Sports, at 7:00 AM and 11:00 AM PST.
Group A: Russia and Uruguay have advanced; Egypt and Saudi Arabia are eliminated; no surprise here.
Group B: Morocco is out. Iran will advance only if it beats Portugal, or draws, with Morocco beating Spain.
Group C: France is in; Peru is out; Australia has an outside chance of advancing if it beats Peru and gets help.
Group D: Croatia is in, with Nigeria (in better shape), Iceland, and Argentina all having a chance to advance.
Group E: Costa Rica is out, with Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia all still in the running.
Group F: Mexico is in and South Korea is out. Germany (playing SK) and Sweden (v. Mexico) are dead even.
Group G: England and Belgium have advanced, while Tunisia and Panama are out; not much excitement here!
Group H: Poland is out, with Japan, Senegal, and Colombia all possible contenders.

2018/06/22 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Melania Trump visits the border: How clueless do you have to be to wear this jacket during a visit to children's detention centers? Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Festival and Parade Speaking of borders, 'Welcome to America': Time magazine's cover, issue of July 2, 2018 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Melania Trump visits the border: How clueless do you have to be to wear this jacket during a visit to children's detention centers? [Center] Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Festival and Parade. [Right] Speaking of borders, 'Welcome to America': Time magazine's cover, issue of July 2, 2018.
(2) Hollister Ave., west of Storke Rd.: My afternoon walk on Tuesday took me from Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace to a historic 1930s gas station, 2 miles to the west. There is a newly widened sidewalk/bike-path on the southern side of Hollister, which is very lightly used at this time. A new assisted-living facility caught my eyes, given the audiobook Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, about end-of-life care, that I listened to while walking (review coming soon). [My photos] [History of the Ellwood Gas Station]
(3) Important safety information regarding Trump tweets: Common side effects include headache, confusion, changes in mood, profanity-laced tirades, bitter family arguments, and, in some instances, projectile vomiting. [From: The New Yorker]
(4) My fall 2018 courses: I just finished updating the Web pages for a graduate-level ECE course and an interdisciplinary freshman seminar that I will be teaching, so as to set the course schedules in a way to accommodate three conference trips being planned. For those interested, here are the Web pages for my courses. [ECE 257A: Fault-Tolerant Computing] [INT 94TN: Puzzling Problems in Science and Technology]
Table of standings in a group of 4 teams (5) A soccer puzzle: Here is a table of standings in a group of 4 teams, each of which has played 2 of its 3 matches in a round-robin format. Can you determine the matches that have been played and their scores? If you like this puzzle, the 2018 World Cup group standings tables provide more examples for your enjoyment, assuming you don't already know the matches and scores.
(6) Friday in Soccer World Cup: Three matches were played in Groups D and E.
- Brazil got a scoreless scare from Costa Rica until minute 90 but ended up winning 2-0 in stoppage time.
- To Argentina's delight, Nigeria decisively beat Iceland 2-0. The disappointed Iceland team missed a PK.
- Serbia took an early lead, but the Swiss scored in minute 53 and again in stoppage time to prevail 2-1.
(7) Interesting facts about the World Cup: Did you know that World Cup's soccer ball is redesigned every 4 years? Adidas supplies the official ball for every World Cup, with this year's iteration dubbed the Telstar 18. Small changes in the design can create significant differences in how the ball responds during play. To find out how the new 2018 ball performs, scientists stuck it in a wind tunnel with a bunch of sensors, publishing their findings in the Journal Sports Engineering and Technology.

2018/06/21 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photo of my extended family taken on May 5, 2018 (1) Photo of my extended family, taken on my niece's wedding day, in Ventura, California, May 5, 2018.
(2) Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the new owner of Los Angeles Times, who made $7.5 billion from selling two biopharmaceutical companies and owns 4.5% of the LA Lakers, has fighting fake news as his top priority.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Paul Manafort is the only manager who had nothing to do with what he was supposed to manage! [Meme]
- Colorado joins California in resisting Trump by requiring stricter car pollution standards.
- What do preachers with mansions and private jets have to say about detention camps for children? [Meme]
- New business for Trump, Inc.: Marketing cherry-picked passages from the Bible! [Image]
- Looking back at World Cup history: The politically-charged match between Iran and the US, 20 years ago.
- Artists building bridges in an increasingly divided and intolerant: Sistanagila concert poster.
- Cartoon of the day: What would Jesus do with children at the border? [Image]
- I couldn't walk home via the beach path yesterday, but I still stopped by for the soothing surf sounds.
(4) Wednesday in Soccer World Cup: Three matches played in Groups A and B. Uruguay and Russia advance.
- Portugal edged past Morocco 1-0 on a minute-5 Ronaldo goal, not scoring again, despite many chances.
- Saudi Arabia played much better than in its first match against Russia, but Uruguay held on to win 1-0.
- Playing defense for the first 45 minutes and much of the second half, Iran lost to Spain 0-1.
[On the Spain-Iran match: Spain, as a championship contender, was expected to win handily, but Iran went into a defensive shell which made scoring difficult. Spain's sole goal came on a lucky deflection. A goal by Iran was disallowed due to offside. Overall, Iran must consider Spain's 1-0 victory a satisfying result for its team.]
(5) Thursday in Soccer World Cup: Three matches were played in Groups C and D.
- In the first match, Denmark took the lead and Australia equalized 1-1 with a PK. [2-minute highlights]
- France edged past Peru, bringing to 10 the inordinately large number of 1-0 matches in this tournament.
- Croatia humiliated Argentina 3-0, scoring early in the second half and twice late in the match.
[Croatia's first goal was a gift from the Argentine goalie. Argentina's Lionel Messi continued to struggle.]
(6) Happy summer and longest day of the year: We have just entered summer, which means that today is the longest day of the year. Iranians celebrate the beginning of spring (Norooz), fall (Mehregan), and winter (Shab-e Yalda, the longest night of the year), but so far as I know, there is no corresponding celebration for the beginning of summer and the longest day of the year. Let's celebrate anyway.
(7) Final thought for the day: "Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts." ~ Paramahansa Yogananda

2018/06/19 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Sunset with beach palms Sunset at Niagara Falls Sunset with fall foliage (1) Earth's beautiful nature: Photos of sunset with beach palms, at Niagara Falls, and with fall foliage.
(2) Quote of the day: "I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human condition." ~ Graham Greene
(3) Sometimes a song's beauty does not register until you hear and see it played by a big orchestra: "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" theme music, composed by Ennio Morricone. [6-minute video]
(4) The silver lining of Trump's presidency: Morally repulsive politicians, mostly men, have held power for a long time. Only the extreme repulsiveness of Trump could have mobilized so many women to run for office and so many Americans becoming open to voting for them.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- The millionaire sponsor of Brexit held previously undisclosed meetings with Russia's Ambassador to the UK.
- Persian verses by Sa'eb Tabrizi: A couple of days late, but still worth sharing in honor of Fathers' Day.
- "A child across the border is no less worthy of love and compassion than my own child." ~ Barack Obama
- "Funny, he wasn't citing Romans to obey government when the black guy was POTUS." ~ John Fugelsang
- Based on a study of Einstein's diaries, a new book shockingly accuses him of racism and xenophobia.
- The world according to Trump: Friend or national security threat? [Cartoon]
- Diverse musical styles: Cat Stevens sings "Wild World" in concert, 1971; Kurdish music from Iran.
(6) Monday in Soccer World Cup: Three matches played in Groups F and G.
- Scoring on a PK, a dominant Swedish team edged past South Korea 1-0. [2-minute highlights] `
- A finely-tuned Belgian team spoiled Panama's World Cup debut 3-0. [3-minute highlights]
- Tunisia thought it had pulled an upset with the score tied after 90+ minutes, but England prevailed 2-1.
(7) Tuesday in Soccer World Cup: Three matches were played in Groups H and A, in what is turning out to be "the World Cup of upsets"! Every team has played one match, with Russia and Egypt completing their second.
- Scoring first on a PK, Japan pulled off an upset, beating Colombia 2-1. [2-minute highlights]
- Senegal dominated the match, beating Poland 2-1 in the second upset of the day. [2-minute highlights]
- Egypt's luck ran out, when it deflected a harmless ball into its own goal. Russia then took over to win 3-1.
[In the margins: Senegal's second goal was controversial, as the referee waved in a previously-injured player, while the game was being played. The said player raced downfield uncontested from the sideline, beating a defensive player and the goalie to a long ball, and scoring the goal. Russia advances to the knockout round. It's still a long way to go in the 2018 World Cup, but I have already broken my record of watching Fox TV!]
(8) Soccer, the beautiful sport with an ugly side: Where there is lots of money, there is corruption. In recent years, nearly 50 FIFA officials, going all the way to the top, have been indicted on bribery charges, including illegal acts connected with awarding the 2018 tournament to Russia. Thumbing his nose at investigators, Putin invited Sep Blatter, the ousted and censured former FIFA President, to attend the games in Russia, and he accepted! [Source: Time magazine, issue of June 25, 2018]

2018/06/17 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Colorful abacaus I received today as a Fathers' Day gift (1) Numbers and their place in nature: In a previous post, I indicated that natural numbers are, well, "natural"! In other words, the numbers 1, 2, 3, ... have a place in nature (0 is sometimes included among natural numbers), independent of any understanding of them. A bird may not know the abstractions 2 and 3, but it does recognize the difference between having 2 eggs or 3 eggs in its nest (such as when one egg goes missing). A natural number, zero included, correspond to the size (cardinality) of sets or collections of objects. The notion of addition of natural numbers arises naturally from putting sets together, as a set of 2 boys "plus" a set of 3 girls, together making a set of 5 children. There are infinitely many natural numbers.
The set of integers consists of natural numbers and their additive inverses. When we write the abstract equality 5 + (–5) = 0, we are saying that if you put five things into a collection and then take 5 things out, nothing will be left. In a similar vain, if you borrow 5 eggs from me and then return 5 eggs the next day, you have paid your debt and owe nothing. So, negative integers appear to be just as natural as natural numbers, also known as positive integers.
Next come rational numbers of the form p/q, numbers that are ratios of a natural number p to a non-zero natural number q. Examples include 1/3, 2/7, and 9/11. Let us first focus on a special class of rational numbers called unit fractions, with p = 1. Just as negative integers are additive inverses of natural numbers, unit fractions are multiplicative inverses of natural numbers. If natural numbers exist, then unit fractions also exist. If 5 apples constitute a set of apples, then one of those apples is 1/5 of that set. Unit fractions are easier to comprehend and deal with than arbitrary fractions. This is why ancient Egyptians dealt exclusively with unit fractions (the only exception being 2/3, which had its own hieroglyph). Even today, odds or likelihoods are often expressed as unit fractions (1 in 3 or 1 in 7) for ease of comprehension and visualization.
An arbitrary fraction can always be written as the sum of unit fractions, such as 8/15 = 1/3 + 1/5. The physical interpretation of 8/15 can be said to be 1/3 plus 1/5 of a set of 15 apples, say. In case you are curious, the decomposition of a fraction into unit fractions is not unique (e.g., 3/7 = 1/4 + 1/7 + 1/28 = 1/3 + 1/11 + 1/231 = 1/6 + 1/7 + 1/14 + 1/21), and there are various ways of deriving a set of unit fractions that add up to p/q. It is well-known that rational numbers are countably infinite, meaning that they can be placed in one-to-one correspondence with natural numbers.
The class of real numbers includes all rational numbers, plus other numbers referred to as irrationals (e.g., pi or square-root of 2). The set of real numbers is also infinite, but this uncountable infinite set is much larger than the countable set of rational numbers. So, almost all real numbers are irrational.
Do irrational numbers exist in nature?
The question of whether irrational numbers exist in nature relates to whether continuity is natural. If everything in nature is discrete, then nothing continuous exists. In that case, what we deem to be continuous, such as an infinitely divisible length, is really an abstraction of highly precise discrete quantities. If space-time is continuous, then we can talk about a triangle with two sides of exact length 1.0 and a 90-degree angle between the two. The third side of this triangle will be exactly of length square-root of 2, an irrational number. Similarly, if we construct a perfect circle with the exact diameter of 1.0, its perimeter will be pi. So, it appears to me that irrational numbers exist in nature if and only if space-time is continuous, which means that arbitrarily precise length and time measurements are possible. Because the latter question is as yet unresolved, we cannot make progress in determining the reality or naturalness of irrational numbers.
In fact, the problem is somewhat more complicated. Most physicists have accepted Einstein's suggestion that space and time are of the same nature, so they are either both continuous or both discrete. There are exceptions to this view, however. It could be that we have discrete space and continuous time, or vice versa, in which case some reframing of current physics theories may become necessary.
[Reference on mathematical platonism] [Reference on space/time continuity]
[Note: The image atop this note is a photo of part of an abacus I received among my Fathers' Day gifts today.]
(2) Bittersweet end of the academic year: My early afternoon walk on Saturday took me to the edge of UCSB campus, where graduation ceremonies were held on a large lawn, next to the campus lagoon. College of Engineering had a separate graduation ceremony today. I arrived there between two ceremonies, as one group was leaving and another group of graduates was arriving with family members in tow, all smiles. The streets of Isla Vista were jam-packed with cars, including trucks, moving vans, and sedans filled to the brim with personal belongings. Streets and sidewalks were littered with discarded mattresses, furniture, and other items, attracting scavengers with trucks or push-carts, loading and taking away usable/salvageable items, as soon as they appeared on the sidewalk. [Photos]
(3) Saturday in Soccer World Cup: Four matches were played in Groups C and D. [Highlights videos in links]
- France beat Australia 2-1, the first goal of each team coming on a PK. [2-minute highlights]
- Argentina and Iceland played to a 1-1 draw, thanks to Iceland goalie's heroic saves, including a Messi PK.
- Peru controlled much of the game and took more shots (including a missed PK), but Denmark won 1-0.
- Croatia beat Nigeria 2-0 in a wide-open game, their second goal coming on a PK.
(4) Sunday in Soccer World Cup: Three matches in Groups E and F, all with unexpected outcomes.
- Serbia stunned Costa Rica 1-0 with a minute-64 long-distance goal on a free kick. [2-minute highlights]
- Mexico overcame Germany 1-0, for the first time in 30 years. [4-minute highlights and commentary]
- Brazil and Switzerland played to a 1-1 draw, in part due to the Swiss goalie's heroics. [3-minute highlights]

2018/06/15 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The colors of the four seasons (1) Putting the spring quarter 2018 behind: I have been changing my Facebook cover photos at the end of each academic quarter to something appropriate for the new season. After finishing my course-related tasks and reporting the grades to the registrar's office, instead of changing my Facebook cover photo to something about the forthcoming summer season, I replaced it with a piece of art about all seasons, beginning with summer on the left. I will name the work and the artist, once I locate the info.
(2) [Book introduction] Why? What Makes Us Curious: In this wonderful book (Simon & Schuster, 2017), Mario Livio, a best-selling author of science texts, probes the question of human curiosity, our "engine of discovery," via the stories of two icons of curiosity and discovery: artist Leonardo da Vinci and physicist Richard Feynman.
(3) Women in Post-Revolutionary Iran: The Pioneers of Gender Justice, Agents of Social Transformation, and the Prospect for the Future (All-day event in Mountain View, CA, Saturday, June 23, 2018) [Poster]
(4) The Women's Movement: From the 'Constitutional Revolution' to the 'Girls of the Revolution Street' (Talk by Dr. Nayereh Tohidi at the June General Meeting of the Association of Iranian-American Professionals of San Diego, Wednesday, June 27, 2018, 6:00 PM, San Diego area) [Announcement]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Donald Trump salutes North Korean general in lavishly produced Kim Jong Un propaganda film.
- World Cup's Days 1-2: Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia; Uruguay 1-0 Egypt; Iran 1-0 Morocco; Portugal 3-3 Spain.
- Quote of the day: "Those who wish to sing always find a song." ~ Swedish proverb
- On Youth and age: "Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art." ~ Polish poet Stanislaw Jerzy Lec
(6) In the rearview mirror: "In their 1920 program, the Nazis proclaimed that 'members of foreign nations (noncitizens) are to be expelled from Germany.' Next would come autarky: Germans would conquer the territory they needed to be self-sufficient, and then create their own economy in isolation from that of the rest of the world. As Goebbels put it, 'We want to build a wall, a protective wall.' Hitler maintained that the vicissitudes of globalization were not the result of economic forces but of a Jewish international conspiracy." ~ From: The Death of Democracy
(7) On today's Iran-Morocco Group-B World Cup match: Iran escaped from the first half against Morocco 0-0, after playing disorganized defense for nearly 30 minutes. A draw would have been bad for both teams, so they woke up late in the match, creating more opportunities. Iran forced an own goal 4 minutes into extra time to defeat Morocco 1-0! [Photos: Batch 1; Batch 2]
(8) On today's Portugal-Spain Group-B World Cup match: A TV announcer indicated right before the match that the trailers and ads were over and real soccer was about to begin! Portugal scored in the 4th minute on a PK. Spain equalized in the 24th minute. Portugal scored in the 44th minute to lead 2-1 at halftime. Spain equalized on a free kick in the 55th minute. A wonderful 58th-minute distance shot made it 3-2 Spain! Ronaldo completed a hat trick on a masterful free kick, just before the final whistle to make the tie the score at 3-3. [Photos]
(9) World Cup analysis and weekend schedule: Right now, Iran is in top spot of World Cup's Group B with 3 points, but today's draw between Portugal and Spain actually hurt Iran's chances of advancing. If both Portugal and Spain beat Iran, they will have 4+ points each (regardless of how Morocco does in its remaining two matches) and Iran will be eliminated. A draw by Iran will keep advancement chances alive, at least in theory (goal differential is unlikely to favor Iran). Here are World Cup matches for the weekend; all times US EDT.

2018/06/14 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Artist at work in Isfahan's bazaar, Iran Intersection of Church and State Streets FIFA World Cup 2018 square logo with soccer ball (1) Some interesting images: [Left] Artist at work in Isfahan's bazaar, Iran. [Center] What separation between church and state? Trump's economic adviser says there is a special place in hell for Justin Trudeau. [Right] Complete Soccer World Cup TV schedule (all times US Eastern), Friday, June 15, to Sunday, July 15, 2018.
(2) In his news conference, Trump said that North Korea has beautiful beaches and some great-looking condos can be built there. Guess who aspires to do the building after the end of his presidency?
(3) Iranian lawyer and human-rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh has been arrested again: She previously spent years in prison, yet after her release, she continued her courageous efforts to speak up for justice, most recently, in the form of defending women prosecuted for opposing Iran's mandatory hijab law. Interestingly, she has been told that she will serve a 5-year jail term, right after her arrest!
(4) Imagine a country with no Internet, only one TV channel, government-controlled news, a land where making unauthorized international phone calls is punishable by execution. The problem of North Korean people isn't that they don't have luxury condos and hotels on their beautiful beaches. The people there are suffering from oppression, poverty, hunger, and lack of human dignity. Congratulations, America, for legitimizing the regime responsible for these conditions!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Soccer World Cup 2026 will be hosted jointly by Canada, USA, and Mexico.
- After many years, the US is again leading in the race to build the world's most powerful supercomputer.
- Proposal to split California into three states, each with a population of 12-14 million, will be put to vote.
- Hunger leads to anger: Oxford Dictionary now recognizes the word "hanger" for anger caused by hunger.
- Quote of the day: "You fall in love with people's minds." ~ Anais Nin, Henry and June
- A family affair: Salar Aghili, his wife, and their son perform the Persian song "Bahar-e Delneshin."
(6) University of Washington researchers have developed a system that, once trained on sample soccer videos, converts a 2D video version of a match to realistic 3D version played right in front of you with a VR headset.

Cover image for Paul Hoffman's 'The Man Who Loved Only Numbers' 2018/06/13 (Wednesday): Book review: Hoffman, Paul, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth, Hachette, 1999. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Hoffman tells the story of Paul Erdos [1913-1996] (pronounced "air-dish"), arguably the most brilliant mathematician of all time. He was certainly the most prolific, in terms of both the number of papers published (~1500) and the range of topics he covered. This isn't just a book about Erdos. Numerous mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers appear across the pages, as their contributions are linked to those of Erdos or are used to make various points about mathematics and its beauty and significance. Sixteen pages of black-and-white photos, inserted between pages 148 and 149, depict Erdos and others.
The story of Erdos' life and his mathematical contributions is intertwined with horror stories from World War II. Erdos spent time with many giants of mathematics and physics during a very special era of scientific interactions. Erdos never had a girlfriend; hence the title of this book. He put his lack of romantic interests in this way: "The privilege of pleasure in dealing with women has not been given to me." Interestingly, a few women were more than happy to be around him; one drove him around for a long time, before getting tired of the routine. In all cases, the relationships remained Platonic.
Erdos traveled constantly, living out of a bag, and producing beautiful mathematical results, often collaboratively. His trail included the entire continent of Europe and, when he was not banned from entering the US during the McCarthy era and for some years after that, many parts of the US. Erdos is said to have been responsible for turning mathematics into a social activity.
Paul Erdos as a boy, in middle age, and as an old man A colleague of Erdos composed the following limerick about him:
A conjecture both deep and profound
Is whether the circle is round
In a paper of Erdos
Written in Kurdish
A counterexample is found
Erdos had so many co-authors that he is connected to most mathematicians by a few hops in the co-authorship network (two individuals are linked in the network if they published a paper together). The distance of an individual to Erdos in this network is known as his or her "Erdos Number." A small Erdos number is worn as a badge of honor! There are 485 lucky individuals with an Erdos number of 1 (his co-authors). Erdos sent out some 1500 letters per year. They mostly discussed mathematics. A typical letter of his began, "I am in Australia. Tomorrow I leave for Hungary. Let k be the largest integer ..." or "Dear Hua, Let p be an odd prime ..." Once during a museum visit, he sat down at a garden, doing math.
Erdos loved, and was good at, constructing succinct, insightful arguments, never accepting page after page of equations as a legitimate proof. In functional analysis, which Erdos knew little about, he casually constructed a two-line solution for a problem that had needed 30 pages. He had a knack for working on disperate problems simultaneously, like a chess grandmaster who goes around the room and plays against multiple opponents. A favorite topic for Erdos was Ramsey Theory, which deals with problems of the following kind: How many guests do we need (at least) at a party so that there are 3 people among them who know each other or 3 people who are mutual strangers?
Erdos was fond of saying, "A mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems." Once, Erdos joked that he was 2.5 billion years old, because during his childhood, the Earth was said to be 2 billion years old, whereas now its age is given as 4.5 billion years! Erdos quoted his friend, mathematician Stanislaw Ulam: "The first sign of senility is that a man forgets his theorems, the second sign is that he forgets to zip up, the third sign is that he forgets to zip down" [p. 251].
No biography of Erdos or its review would be complete without reference to actual mathematical problems. Here is a recreational math problem of the kind that attracted Erdos. When Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth's record of 714, mathematicians took delight in some unusual properties of the pair (715, 714). For one thing, the product of 715 and 714 equals the product of the first 7 prime numbers. Also, the sum of the prime factors of 715 (5, 11, 13) equals the sum of the prime factors of 714 (2, 3, 7, 17), prompting the designation "Ruth-Aaron pair" for consecutive integers having this property. When Carl Pomerance conjectured, with no inkling of how to prove it, that there are infinitely many Ruth-Aaron pairs, Erdos was quick to come up with a proof (pp. 180-181). This chance contact developed into 21 co-authored papers.
No one is working on Ruth-Aaron pairs any more, but "The line between recreational mathematics and serious number theory is often fuzzy" [p. 204]. As observed by John Tierney, "This is the remarkable paradox of mathematics. No matter how determinedly its practitioners ignore the world, they consistently produce the best tools for understanding it. ... [For example] Bernhard Riemann ... replaces Euclid's plane with a bizarre abstraction called curved space, and then, 60 years later, Einstein announces that this is the shape of the universe."
Here is another interesting example from the book. Ancient Egyptians were very fond of unit fractions, having 1 as the numerator (e.g., 1/3, 1/10, 1/413) and tried to deal with them exclusively. The only exception was 2/3, which had its own hieroglyph. Every fraction is representable as the sum of a set of unit fractions. For example, 7/11 = 1/2 + 1/8 + 1/88 and 55/84 = 1/2 + 1/7 + 1/84. Fibonacci used a greedy process to derive a set of unit fractions, whose sum equaled a given fraction. First choose the largest unit fraction 1/m that is smaller than the given fraction p/q. Compute the remainder p/q – 1/m and repeat the process. The greedy process does not necessarily lead to a "best" representation, which can be defined in a variety of ways (smallest number of unit fractions, minimal value for the largest denominator, minimal sum for the denominators, and so on). Here is an example with multiple representations: 3/7 = 1/4 + 1/7 + 1/28 = 1/3 + 1/11 + 1/231 = 1/6 + 1/7 + 1/14 + 1/21.
Hundreds of thousands of theorems are proven each year, and it is difficult to judge which ones will end up being important. Many of these theorems find a single reader or a handful of readers, but if the number of people interested in a particular area or problem reaches 100, then perhaps that area/problem is important. The list of problems that Erdos tackled himself or helped others solve is virtually endless. One example is the fact that there is always a prime between n and 2n. This constitutes one of the ways of proving that there are infinitely many primes (a fact first proven by Euclid). And Erdos wasn't well-read only in mathematics. Once, a speaker scheduled to give a talk did not show up. Erdos got up and gave a lecture about recent discoveries about the color vision of bees, with no preparation or notes.
As brilliant as Erdos was, his intuition occasionally led him astray. A famous example is his reaction to the Monty Hall problem. He got into a dispute with Marilyn vos Savant, whose column in Parade magazine popularized the problem. It took Erdos a long time to come to accept that if a contestant on a game show with three closed doors, behind one of which is a grand prize, chooses a door and is then shown behind one of the other two doors which contains no prize, switching from the chosen door to the other remaining door will double his/her chances of winning the prize.
Anyone with some interest in mathematics should absolutely read this book. I provided examples of the eccentricities and genius of Erdos in my review, but there are many more examples in this remarkable book.
[End note: Thanks to my daughter Sepideh for recommending this book to me and for loaning me her copy.]

2018/06/12 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon portrait of Donald Trump Political chess game between US and North Korea Cartoon portrait of Kim Jong Un (1) A high-stakes political chess game, being played in Singapore between US and North Korea leaders.
(2) Mind-reading Siri and Alexa: Student researchers at MIT's Media Lab have designed a headset that detects subvocalization (the process that triggers neuromuscular signals when we read to ourselves, e.g.) to pick up our thoughts through small muscle movements.
(3) Robotic bees on Mars: A future NASA Mars mission may include tiny flying robots the size of bumblebees, which are equipped with cameras, sensors, and wireless communication capabilities. Flying in swarms, the robots can help create 3D maps to help a rover navigate the rugged Martian terrain.
(4) New algorithm can spot fake photos, before they go viral: UC Berkeley and CMU researchers have developed a system that can detect inconsistencies in doctored images. Each imaging device has unique features that manifest themselves across entire images. By teaching an algorithm to distinguish imagery from different sources, researchers hope to be able to identify images that mix elements from more than one source.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Thoughts and prayers: Gunman kills four child hostages and himself in Florida standoff.
- Freudian slip: Fox News host refers to the Singapore summit as meeting of two dictators!
- Donald Trump says Kim Jong Un has accepted invitation to visit him at the White House.
- Persian poetry: A playful love poem by the Azeri poet Mohammad Hossein Shahriar. [Facebook post]
Block against a wall (6) Neat physics problem from Wired magazine: A 1-kg block is pressed against a vertical wall and is pushed an an angle theta, just hard enough to stay in place. The coefficient of friction between the block and the wall is 0.5. What is the required force F? Is there an optimum value for the angle theta that minimizes the required force?
(7) Ivanka Trump's "Chinese proverb" backfires: In support of her father's summit with Kim Jong Un, Ivanka tweeted, "Those who say it can not be done, should not interrupt those doing it." The misplaced comma aside, the tweet has two main problems. First, it isn't a Chinese proverb, but an example of Eastern "wisdom" manufactured by Westerners. Reactions from actual Asians were wide-ranging, including the following tweets:
- "This is not even remotely an actual Chinese proverb." - Chinese proverb
- "Confucius say ... don't use Chinese proverbs as intellectual and moral veneer."
- "You can call any old shit a Chinese proverb on the Internet." - Confucius
More importantly, even though the statement sounds profound at first, further reflection reveals it to be misguided. Suppose the doer is a man running toward the rim of the Grand Canyon, with the aim of jumping to the other side. An observer, who thinks the Canyon is too wide for this stunt to succeed, has the absolute moral obligation to interrupt him, even if it requires tackling him to the ground.

2018/06/11 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Geometric interpretation of square-root of 2 (1) Several friends had engaged in a discussion of numbers and whether they always existed in nature, before we humans discovered them, or whether they are made up by us. Here is what I contributed to the discussion.
On the reality of irrational numbers: Whether numbers are "real" or figments of our imagination is a deep philosophical discussion. There is near-unanimous agreement that integers have always been there, independent of human discovery and understanding. Mathematician Leopold Kronecker famously said: "God made the integers; all else is the work of man." In a deeper sense, it doesn't really matter whether pi or square-root of 2 is real or just imagined. Mathematicians can't be bothered with this question, because what they do is independent of the "realness" of numbers.
I claim that square-root of 2 is just as real as the integer 2. Here is my reasoning. Let's begin by accepting the notion of time being unidirectional (the arrow of time) and measurable. The unidirectionality of time is a debatable assumption, but we have to start somewhere. The measurability is less of a problem, because time and distance-traveled are interchangeable in the case of uniform motion. It makes perfect sense to talk about one distance or one time-interval being twice as long as another one.
Now, imagine an ant crawling for 1 minute at a constant speed of 1 meter/minute along a straight line from point A to point B, turning left by 90 degrees, and moving from B to C along a straight line in 1 minute. Travel distance and travel time from A to C by this ant are both twice as long as those for the first leg of the trip. A second ant, also crawling at 1 meter/minute, goes straight from A to C. The time taken by the second ant and the distance it travels are both shorter by a factor of square-root of 2.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and other items of potential interest.
- Former basketball player Dennis Rodman has traveled to Singapore for the US-NK nuclear summit.
- Political puzzle: Of these two photos of Trump, which one is with a US friend and which one with a foe?
- Trump officials begin the process of cleaning up the mess he created at the G-7 summit in Canada.
- It seems that "America First" is turning into "America Alone"!
- In the top positions of Spain's new government, women outnumber men nearly 2 to 1.
- Newspapers around the world react to Trump's embarrassing behavior at the G-7 summit in Canada.
- Persian poetry: A couple of verses from Sanaa'ee Ghaznavi. [Persian verses]
- On a stroll in my mom's condo complex, with family members: The fish in the pond are up to 50 years old.
(3) Speakerless car audio system: Based on the same properties as string instruments, Continental's Ac2ated system converts vibrations from a car's interior components into high-quality sounds. The back windshield, e.g., becomes a subwoofer, the A-pillar posts become tweeters, and so on. An expensive car audio system can weigh 20 lbs or more, whereas the new system registers at just 2 lbs.
(4) Perfection isn't always desirable: ClearMotion, a Boston start-up, has created a suspension system that is so perfect that it has to be toned down a bit to give the driver a feel for the road and brakes. Various sensors predict when the car is about to go over a bump, dip, or hole and quickly compensate for it, giving a very smooth ride. The toning down is needed with real drivers, but where self-driving cars are involved, the absolute smooth ride can be maintained.

Images from UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran, Sunday, June 10, 2018 2018/06/10 (Sunday): UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran: Today's program (121 Dodd Hall, 4:00-7:00 PM) consisted of a screening of Tahmineh Milani's film "Untaken Paths" (or "Mali and Her Untaken Paths"), focusing on domestic violence, followed by a panel discussion, during which, moderator Dr. Nayereh Tohidi (shown on the right in the photo) provided a post-screening intro, followed by position statements from (in order from right to left) Dr. Nelly Farnoody-Zahiri, Abbas Hadjian, and Partow Nooriala. Let me include some links before reporting on the film and the ensuing discussion.
- Official trailer [1-minute video]
- Voice of America story about the film [5-minute video]
- The full film [106-minute video]
Dr. Tohidi introduced the panel, indicating that they were chosen to represent the viewpoints of a psychologist/family-counselor, an attorney who is familiar with both Iranian and US family laws, and an author/poet/film-critic. She al